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Raising the Federal Minimum Wage to $15 Would Cover Living Wages in Nearly Two-Thirds of the Country’s 100 Largest Metros

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Think about what your paycheck looked like in 2009. Now imagine it never changed, even as your cost of living did. For some, this is a reality: The federal minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009, when it was raised to $7.25. And while states can set minimum wage requirements, $7.25 is the baseline for American workers.

Enter the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 bill, introduced in the U.S. Senate in January 2021. It would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years. But the bill has since stalled after being referred to a committee, leaving its future uncertain. (President Joe Biden tried to include related legislation in the COVID-19 relief bill earlier this year but the Senate parliamentarian ruled against including it.)

But what would a $15 minimum wage accomplish, and who would benefit the most? To find out, LendingTree researchers looked at the country’s 100 largest metros and compared a $15 minimum wage to living costs in each area. The research shows a $15 minimum wage would cover basic living costs in nearly two-thirds of the metros examined.

Key findings

  • Residents of El Paso, Texas, would benefit the most from a $15 minimum wage. The increase would provide residents in this metro with wages exceeding basic living costs — $12.40 — by 21%. Raising the minimum wage to $15 in El Paso would be a 107% increase from the current amount, $7.25.
  • Residents of Toledo, Ohio, and McAllen, Texas, would similarly benefit from a $15 minimum wage. Wages would exceed standard living costs by 19.8% in Toledo (living wage of $12.52) and 18.8% in McAllen (living wage of $12.63) if the minimum wage were raised to $15. The current minimum wage is $8.80 in Toledo and $7.25 in McAllen.
  • Six metros among the 100 largest have minimum wages of at least $15. Those six metros are Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.
  • Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 would cover estimated living wages for a single person with no children in nearly two-thirds of the metros reviewed. On the extreme end, the $15.45 minimum wage in San Jose falls short of a basic local living wage — $25.12 — by 38.5%, so residents here would need additional help.

Metros that would benefit the most from a $15 minimum wage

According to LendingTree research, the El Paso, Toledo and McAllen metros would benefit the most from a $15 minimum wage. Among the top 10 — well, 11 since there was a tie for the last spot — metros that would benefit the most from a $15 minimum wage, four are in the South and in the Midwest:

Metros that would benefit the most
Rank Metro Minimum hourly wage Living wage Overage of $15 minimum wage to living wage
1 El Paso, Texas $7.25 $12.40 21%
2 Toledo, Ohio $8.80 $12.52 19.8%
3 McAllen, Texas $7.25 $12.63 18.8%
4 Spokane, Wash. $13.69 $12.69 18.2%
5 (tie) Harrisburg, Pa. $7.25 $12.84 16.8%
5 (tie) Chattanooga, Tenn. $7.25 $12.84 16.8%
7 Dayton, Ohio $8.80 $12.87 16.6%
8 Knoxville, Tenn. $7.25 $12.98 15.6%
9 Pittsburgh $7.25 $13.08 14.7%
10 (tie) Wichita, Kan. $7.25 $13.10 14.5%
10 (tie) Akron, Ohio $8.80 $13.10 14.5%

In 10 of the 11 metros here, a $15 minimum wage would represent a 71% to 107% rise in wages. For example, a jump from $8.80 to $15 in Toledo would boost wages by 71%. Even more prominently, a jump from $7.25 to $15 in McAllen would boost wages by 107%.

But it’s Spokane, Wash., that stands out among the crowd. The metro already has a minimum wage that exceeds the living wage, yet it still ranks fourth on the list. And at $13.69, a rise to $15 would only represent a 10% increase in the minimum wage. But its low living wage — $12.69 — helps propel it toward the top of the list.

Where the minimum wage is already $15

While minimum wage is being debated on a national stage, six metros already have a $15 minimum wage.

It’s important to be aware that while researchers looked at the 100 largest metros, the minimum wage, in some cases, is from a municipality within that metro. (For example, the New York metro covers multiple cities and states, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.) In all instances, researchers used the maximum minimum wage available within that metro.

Metros with minimum wages of $15
Metro Minimum hourly wage Living wage
Washington, D.C. $15 $19.97
New York $15 $20
Los Angeles $15 $19.22
San Jose, Calif. $15.45 $25.12
San Francisco $16.32 $22.88
Seattle $16.69 $18.56

While many metros would benefit from an increase to a $15 minimum wage, the metros that have already adopted it have one thing in common: Their living wage requirements are already more than $15 an hour.

This isn’t surprising as these locations are high-cost areas. In fact, all six cities (not looking at the metros) have median gross rent amounts at least $380 more than the national average of $1,062.

A $15 minimum wage would cover living wages in nearly two-thirds of the 100 largest metros

Of the 100 largest metros examined, raising the minimum wage to $15 would exceed living wages in 63 areas.

“A $15 minimum wage would be nothing short of life-changing for many Americans,” says Matt Schulz, LendingTree chief credit analyst. “It would make it easier for folks to keep food on the table, pay their bills and so much more. In many parts of the country, $15 per hour still isn’t enough to help Americans make ends meet fully, but there’s no question that it could make a huge, huge difference in the everyday lives of many, many hard-working Americans.”

However, in those remaining areas where a high living wage is at or over $15, this hypothetical increase wouldn’t be as impactful. And, as mentioned earlier, some of these areas already have a minimum wage above $15, so there would be no impact.

Interestingly, the West is home to the most metros where a $15 minimum wage would prove ineffective, claiming six of the bottom 10 metros.

For example, San Francisco’s $16.32 minimum wage falls short of a living wage by 28.7%. And even if the minimum wage in Honolulu rose from $10.10 to $15, it would still fall 25.9% short. So while it would largely prove helpful, it’s not a solution for all.

Full rankings

4 ways a $15 minimum wage could benefit consumers

A $15 federal minimum wage would represent a significant income boost for many Americans, which can have larger impacts. Here are four ways it could benefit consumers:

  • Better customer service: Low earnings typically result in higher staff turnover and correspond to higher error and accident rates. So a $15 minimum wage might mean you get better service when shopping.
  • More spending power: A higher minimum wage would give millions of Americans more spending power, according to Schulz. And with that increased spending, he adds, we’d also see a boost to the economy.
  • Better debt consolidation options: In general, interest rates improve over the long term when the economy does well. So the economic boost from a $15 minimum wage could lead to a lower interest rate on a debt consolidation loan or credit card, saving you money.
  • Opportunities to leverage savings: The more extra cash you have, the more you can take advantage of interest earnings on deposits, including savings accounts or certificates of deposit (CDs). While this can temporarily suppress rates (if there are many people depositing money, banks aren’t as incentivized to offer competitive rates), it’s still a plus in the long term.

Methodology

Using data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator, analysts calculated where raising the federal minimum wage to $15 would have the largest effect toward meeting the baseline living wage for a single person with no children in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”).

Current state and municipal minimum wages were sourced from the LaborLawCenter, nonprofit research group Minimum Wage and state and municipal Department of Labor websites.

The highest available wage within each MSA was used.

 

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