Americans Agree: It’s time to raise the minimum wage

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A new study by The Harris Poll on behalf of Yahoo Finance finds that the vast majority of Americans support a higher federal minimum wage and believe that the federal minimum wage should keep workers above the poverty line and allow them to afford basic housing.

Americans believe the minimum wage is failing workers right now. Three out of four Americans say a federal minimum wage should exist, but 83% agree that the current federal minimum wage rate of $7.25/hour is not enough for an individual to live on.

This likely explains why the same number (83%) say the federal minimum wage should be increased. On average, Americans say the highest amount they would support increasing the minimum wage to is $18.68/hour, or a full-time, pre-tax salary of about $39,000/year. (The median value Americans support is $15/hour.) Compared to the current federal minimum wage, this would keep minimum wage employees well above the individual 2021 poverty line of $12,880. Although taxes and cost of living should still be accounted for, these Americans would still have a higher disposable income.

Perhaps this is why three in five Americans (59%) say increasing the federal minimum wage would have a positive impact on the U.S. economy overall.

In fact, Americans appear to be in support of not just a higher minimum wage but a living wage, too. Most Americans agree that a full-time job paying the federal minimum wage should keep a worker above the poverty line (72%) and that a worker should be able to afford a 1-bedroom apartment with a full-time job paying the federal minimum wage (74%).

Despite this ample, national support for a living wage, those with higher financial privilege appear more disconnected from the realities of life on minimum wage and therefore are less likely to support a wage increase. Those living in households making more than $100K annually are twice as likely to say that the minimum wage is enough to live on compared to those in households making less than six figures annually (28% vs. 11%, respectively). Additionally, college graduates, who often overlap with those in high income households, are also twice as likely to say that an individual could live on minimum wage compared to both those with little or no college education (24% vs. 12%).

Nevertheless, the need to reevaluate the U.S. federal minimum wage is something most Americans support, and Congress seems ready to consider new minimum wage legislation. Democrats are pushing for a $15/hour minimum wage, and most Americans appear to be on board. When asked the highest amount they would support raising the federal minimum wage to, the median value for all Americans came to $15.00/hour exactly. What’s more, 13% of Americans say they would support a higher rate than $15/hour.

Dealing with more financial burdens than previous generations, American under 45, on average, support a higher minimum wage than older Americans do. Compared to those ages 45+, Americans ages 18-44 were more likely to support minimum wage increases over $20/hour. In fact, adults ages 18-34 support an average wage that is double the average supported by adults ages 65+ ($25.46 vs. $12.63, respectively).

However, despite the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic, most Americans (83%) agree that increasing the federal minimum wage should be considered separately from COVID-19 relief.

If the federal minimum wage were to be increased, most Americans prefer an increase based, at least in part, on the average cost of living in the U.S. Forty percent of Americans say minimum wage increases should be determined by a combination of both the average cost of living in the U.S. and national, average/median wages. Another third (33%) say the increase should be determined using only the average cost of living in the country.

Again, perhaps given the larger financial struggles of Gen Z and Millennials, Americans under 45 were more likely to support a minimum wage increase based on national, average/median wages compared to Americans ages 45+ (19% vs. 6%, respectively).

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll from January 29, 2021, to February 1, 2021, among 1,065 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo.

Download full data here.