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.

Raise the Minimum Wage!

Amen, brother! (Getty Images)

W.J. Astore

Remarkably, the federal minimum wage still sits at $7.25 an hour and hasn’t been raised since 2009. As a reminder, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were riding high from 2009 to 2016 and they never saw fit to fight hard enough to raise that paltry sum. That’s why Bernie Sanders was so appealing in 2015 when he challenged Hillary Clinton and advocated for a $15.00 minimum wage. People may forget that Hillary initially equivocated, proposing only a $12.00 minimum wage. Ah, the generosity and compassion of Hillary. No boundaries except for $12.00 an hour.

Allegedly, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are now for the $15.00 sum, but of course it would be phased in over several years since the peasants must be reminded of their place. It’s possible that the Covid relief plan currently in the works will finally set the country on a firm if slow path to $15.00. Even so, consider a full-time employee working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. If she makes $15.00 an hour, her pay before taxes would max out at $30,000.00 a year, hardly a munificent sum. Consider that she’d have to work full-time for 22 years to make as much money as Hillary Clinton made in three short speeches to the financial and banking sectors. I’m with her (for the money)!

My father knew the score. As a factory worker, he had to fight for a dime pay raise, a story he recounted in his journal. Here’s an excerpt:

It seems that Mike Calabrese on his own asked Harry Gilson for a pay raise [at the factory] and he was refused.  Mike decided to organize the men members and go down in a group.  In our group he got ten men to approach Harry G. for a raise.  But when it was time to “bell the cat” only three fellows went to see Harry.  Well Mike said he couldn’t join the group because he had already tried to get a raise.  I knew I was being used but I was entitled to a raise.  Well Harry said to me, “What can I do for you men?”  So I said to Harry: 1) Living costs were going up; 2) We deserved a raise.  So Harry said, “How much?”  and I said ten cents an hour would be a fair raise.  So he said I’ll give you a nickel an hour raise and later you’ll get the other nickel.  We agreed.  So, I asked Harry will everyone get a raise and he replied, “Only the ones that I think deserve it.”

Well a month later I was drinking water at the bubbler [water fountain] and Harry saw me and said what a hard job they had to get the money to pay our raises.  Well, Willie, Harry Gilson and his brother Sam and their two other Italian brother partners all died millionaires.  No other truer saying than, “That the rich have no sympathy or use for the poor.”

And then my father added this pearl of wisdom: From my life’s experience I’ve found that the harder I worked physically the less money I made.

Lee Camp knows the score as well as he calls for real redistribution of wealth in this humorous article. My dad would like this guy.

I know, we can’t say “class warfare” in America, comrade. But maybe that’s because, as the billionaire Warren Buffett put it, the richest among us are so clearly winning.