$15 Then! (Yet Another Reason Why a $15 Minimum Wage Isn’t as “Insane” as You Think)


Last night during the Democratic debate, when asked if she would sign a $15 an hour federal minimum wage should the bill come across her desk, Hillary Clinton snapped back, “Of course I would … if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15.” Clinton has previously backed state and city efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15, but this is the first time she’s on the record supporting that number at the federal level.

My, how far the $15 movement has come. And yet, not quite so far as it first appears.

Back in 2012, when New York City fast food workers first walked off the job demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to organize, the political and media establishment collectively rolled its eyes at such an “insane” demand. But that was back when $15 was still worth, well, $15 — at least in 2012 money. Four years later, adjusted even for our current anemic rate of inflation, those same three five-spots are only worth about $14.46. And not even Bernie Sanders is talking about jumping to $15 now. He proposes a gradual phase-in through 2022 (a full decade after that first fast food strike!), when $15 will only be worth about $12.80 in 2012 dollars.

That’s not nothing. But in today’s money, it’s about $4,600 a year less than what those fast food workers were striking for. Because inflation!

So yeah, the rapid progression of $15 from fringe idea to the most loudly shouted about point of agreement in the Democratic debate is nothing short of amazing. Still, whatever your first impression of the proposal, it’s important to remember that $15 now isn’t the same thing as $15 then.


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