Updated Oct 13, 2018

Why $15 an hour has drawbacks of its own

Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Map: Axios Visuals

A $15 per hour minimum wage has become a national U.S. rallying cry from workers seeking middle-class security. But while double the current minimum, $15 has its own limitations — and risks uncontemplated social consequences.

Why it matters: A $15 wage may be enough to buy a small home in some parts of the U.S., and will increase the living standards of millions of Americans. But what's apparent on the map above is that it is barely sufficient for a studio apartment in the big cities, and it could upset workers already earning $15 and more.

Driving the news: Over the last year, major cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco have declared $15 an hour minimums, and major corporations like Amazon and Disney have followed suit. These moves have made $15 the target across the country. but they also create new expectations that employers must consider.

Take El Centro, a city close to the Mexican border in California, where the median wage is $14.76, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of El Centro's lower prices, the purchasing power of $15 there actually comes to about $16.80, according to a government formula that reconciles the geographic value of wages from city to city.

  • But nursing assistants in El Centro already are paid a median wage of $15.07 an hour.
  • Now, they will be earning the same as fast-food cooks.
  • So unless the wages of nurses and professionals like them go up as well, they could start their own outcry, says Michael Saltsman, managing director of the Employment Policies Institute, a fiscally conservative DC think tank.

This scenario is playing out right now at Amazon. On Oct. 2, the company put in place a $15 an hour base wage for all employees. Senior warehouse workers who were already making $15 an hour were given a $1 an hour raise. But many protested that they would actually see a drop in total compensation because Amazon stopped issuing bonuses and stock awards, the Seattle Times reports.

  • Now, Amazon says it may resurrect some of the bonuses and stock awards.

The other side: Silicon Valley, only about 550 miles north of El Centro, is the most expensive part of the country. That same $15 is worth only around $11.80 there — and since the median hourly wage is already $27.66, the subject of the pay raise for most is moot, Saltsman says.

Go deeper

Stocks fall 4% as sell-off worsens

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Stocks fell more than 4% on Thursday, extending the market’s worst week since the financial crisis in 2008 following a spike in coronavirus cases around the world.

The big picture: All three indices closed in correction territory on Thursday, down over 10% from their recent record-highs amid a global market rout.

Coronavirus updates: California monitors 8,400 potential cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

33 people in California have tested positive for the coronavirus, and health officials are monitoring 8,400 people who have recently returned from "points of concern," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 82,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica, and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health

Watchdog opens probe into VA secretary over handling of sexual assault claim

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Fox Business Network’s "The Evening Edit" on Jan. 7. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael Missal said Thursday he had opened an investigation into VA Secretary Robert Wilkie after lawmakers demanded an inquiry into his handling of a sexual misconduct report, the Washington Post reports.

Context: Wilkie allegedly "worked to discredit" the credibility of Democratic aide and veteran Andrea Goldstein after she reported last fall "that a man groped and propositioned her in the main lobby of the agency's D.C. Medical Center," a senior VA official told the Post.