Kaylee Sheppard

Kaylee Sheppard

As the Biden Administration continues to fight for their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, a major point of debate within the package is the push for an increase to the minimum wage to $15 per hour. This would incrementally increase from the current $7.25 minimum to $15 by 2025. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this measure would help over 30 million workers see a pay increase.

The majority of these workers will be women and people of color. According to the EPI, 59% of workers who would benefit from this wage increase are women. One in four of these women are Latina or Black. According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly three-fourths of tipped minimum wage workers are women.

Many of these women are employed in industries that are traditionally classified as “women’s work” and have traditionally been underpaid, which are child and elder care, housekeeping and foodservice.

There is a constant societal debate of how we can uplift the pay gap that women face in America. Data shows that an increase in pay for low-wage workers could have a significant impact on the gender and racial pay gap. Additionally, throughout history women have been locked out of high-earning jobs because of sexism, and many of these women still hold low-wage jobs.

In 2019, Congresswomen Ayana Pressley summed up the issue perfectly in an op-ed in Teen Vogue:

“Passing this legislation would mean that millions of women will get a necessary raise. Many work hard every day performing services that are essential to our communities and our society, and yet they earn so little that they still worry about paying their bills. We’re talking, for example, about the more than half a million childcare workers whose typical pay is just $11.17 per hour. And we’re talking about the nearly 800,000 home health aides whose median pay is $11.63.”

It is time to ensure all people in American have a fair shot to make it in life. This includes paying minimum wage workers and ensuring that they can support themselves and any dependents. Uplifting minimum wage workers will in turn uplift women and contribute to closing the gender pay gap in the United States.

Raising the minimum wage now is so important because the COVID-19 crisis has exposed just how few safety nets exist for minimum wage workers due to a lack of support from companies and the limited ability to save after monthly expenses by individuals. This raise will help workers affected to begin to rebuild themselves post-COVID-19 and build a better life for themselves and their families.

It’s a real possibility that a minimum wage increase gets thrown out of this COVID relief package. Is it worth leaving behind to pass a package with other relief measures? I will leave that up to our senators to decide.

However, I believe is it very relevant to the idea of COVID relief. Many people have been stuck in poverty due to the lack of incrementally increasing wages, resulting in disastrous effects when the COVID-19 shutdowns began. If these measures had been in place before COVID-19, maybe the economic disasters would not have been so dire for so many people.

Kaylee Sheppard is a graduate student in the Accelerated Master in Public Policy program. She can be reached atksheppa7@vols.utk.edu.

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