Nearly 7 million Americans are starting 2020 with a pay raise

Micheal Ledford | Twenty20

Starting on Wednesday, there will be 47 new wage increases hitting workers in cities, counties and states across the country, according to the National Employment Law Project. That means about 6.8 million Americans will start the year with higher wages, progressive think tank the Economic Policy Institute estimates.

On average, those working in jurisdictions with minimum wage hikes will see their annual earnings increase by $150 to $1,700, the EPI reports. The wage increases range from a 10 cent inflation adjustment in Florida to $1.50 per hour raises in states such as New Mexico and Washington. About 17 planned wage hikes promise to pay workers at least $15 per hour, many exceeding that threshold, the liberal-leaning nonprofit NELP finds.

More jurisdictions are raising their minimum wage at the start of the year than ever before, NELP says, giving much of the credit for the increases to Fight for $15, a campaign to raise wages for fast food workers, first launched in New York City in 2012.

"It shows the incredible momentum that the Fight for $15 movement has built up," Yannet Lathrop, policy analyst with NELP and the report's author, said in a statement. "Local communities all around the country strongly support raising the minimum wage, because people see their friends, neighbors or themselves working hard but not getting ahead."

Following the increases on New Year's Day, four states and 23 cities and counties have planned additional minimum wage increases that will kick in later in 2020. Of those, 15 more jurisdictions will see hikes going up to $15 or more per hour.

Yet for all the success at the local level, it's been 10 years since Congress set the current federal minimum wage at $7.25. This summer, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the Raise the Wage Act, which aims to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

But the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to pick up the legislation. Currently, there are still 21 states where the minimum wage remains frozen at $7.25.

House passes 'Wage Act' to raise minimum pay to $15 an hour
House passes 'Wage Act' to raise minimum pay to $15 an hour

Across the board, that level of compensation is simply not keeping up as day-to-day costs continue to soar. Pew Research found that the average paycheck last year had the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. That's true even in smaller metro areas where the cost of living can be lower.

While just 2.1% of all hourly workers made the hourly federal minimum wage last year, many of whom were teens, there's a significant portion of U.S. adults who still fall short of a wage that would sustain a family of four at the poverty threshold. And research shows that women and minorities are disproportionately affected by the minimum wage issue.

In a separate report, NELP predicts that by 2024, a single adult will need to earn at least $15 an hour, a gross income of roughly $31,200 per year, to achieve an adequate standard of living nationwide. In some areas, such as New York and California, this is already the minimum required.

"People who work low-wage jobs need and deserve a raise — and companies can afford it," Lathrop says. "There's no excuse."

Check out: What it's like trying to live on minimum wage in the U.S.—it's a 'constant struggle'

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