Joe Biden’s Failure to Raise the Federal Minimum Wage

W.J. Astore

When Joe Biden was running for president in 2020, he promised to raise the federal minimum wage for workers from $7.25, where it’s sat since 2009, to $15 an hour.  Today, despite his promise and surging inflation, the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25.

My Democratic friends tell me that Biden wants to keep his promise and that it’s not his fault that nothing has been done.  Senators Manchin and Sinema are obstructing him.  Senate parliamentary procedures are roadblocks too.  Poor Joe Biden.  He’s the “leader of the free world,” the most powerful person in America, but his powers are limited by recalcitrant members of his own party, who are blocking Lunch Bucket Joe from helping workers across America.

I’m not buying it.  Occam’s Razor applies here.  Since 2009, the Democratic Party hasn’t raised the minimum wage because the leadership hasn’t wanted to.

Sure, Democrats say they want to do it.  But I trust Americans are familiar with politicians and the sincerity of their “promises.”

Consider the promises made by Barack Obama and Joe Biden to codify Roe v. Wade into law; indeed, Obama in 2007 said it would be his top priority as president, only to backtrack when he took office.  Biden in 2020 made similar promises but accomplished nothing.  But I’m sure it’s not their fault.  They tried but something or someone was always in their way.

Sadly, Democrats like Obama and Biden are compromised, corrupt, and, with respect to helping workers, not that much better than the MAGA Republicans they profess to despise as enemies within.

Consider again the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t gone up since 2009.  Obama/Biden had nearly eight years in office to raise it above $7.25 but they never did.  When Bernie Sanders ran his insurgent campaign in 2015-16, he made a “radical” proposal to raise it immediately to $15.  Hillary Clinton countered with $12 to be phased in over time.  Under much pressure, she eventually gave unconvincing lip service to $15.  She lost the election, of course, to a trumped-up celebrity apprentice and failed casino owner.

Despite this history, my Democratic friends tell me I simply don’t understand separation of powers in the U.S. government.  Presidents Obama and now Biden truly wanted to raise the federal minimum wage but were hamstrung by Congress and members of their own political party.  Interestingly, my Democratic friends rarely mention how their party is aligned with big business and corrupted by big money (as is the Republican Party).

There’s a clear reason why the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour: Establishment Democrats are simply against raising it.  Sure, they always promise to, but then something always goes wrong.  Just as Lucy always promises to hold the football so Charlie Brown can kick it, only to pull it away every time Charlie goes to kick it.  She doesn’t know why; it just happens.

Once again, the $15 football is swept away when Charlie Brown goes to kick it (Joey Waggoner)

I come back to the words of Thucydides: The strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.  Powerful people and institutions, either in or aligned with the Democratic Party, are against raising the federal minimum wage, including Joe Biden. My proof is the total lack of results since 2009 in raising that wage.

Few things would help women and minority workers more than a $15 minimum wage, simply because women and minorities have more of the jobs that don’t pay well.  Unfortunately for them, they can’t hire big-money lobbyists or make huge campaign donations to the Democratic Party.  In America, where money is speech, they simply don’t have the money to have their say.

Assuming Biden runs again in 2024, I’m guessing we’ll hear another promise about a $15 minimum wage.  And then, assuming he wins, we’ll hear yet more excuses about how Joe just can’t get it done because of the filibuster or whatever.  Just think Charlie Brown, the football, and the American worker landing flat on his back as promises for fairer wages yet again go unfulfilled.