The US has not had a federal minimum wage update for a very long time. In 2012, there emerged been a loose movement to "Fight for 15" - push for an increase of the (federal and not just) minimum wage to 15 USD/hour.

However... it's been 10 years, and prices have risen. If we ignore the past year (2021), it's an 18% increase since 2012, and if we take the past year into account, this becomes over 26% (see CPI data here).

I'm wondering why we're not seeing an update of the number. This is especially problematic if we consider how some of the successful "to 15" measures target 4 or 5 years into the future, when $15/hour will likely be 2012's $10/hour equivalent.

So, how come it's not the "fight for $20" by now? Is it just inertia? The catchiness of the slogan? Some other, more meaningful, reasons?

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    In Germany, the leftist Left Party had for years a campaign for a €12/hour minimum wage (and before than €10/hour, if I recall correctly). When the centre-left Social Democratic Party finally adopted/stole the idea and also campaigned for the same (after previously opposing it), the Left Party upped their game and started campaigning for €13/hour.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 7:35
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    They do, but my impression is that it has more to do with outbidding the social democrats than with adjusting for inflation…
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 8:28
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    Well Joe Biden Inc has had two years to pass it. Maybe it was found to be really bad for the economy and would likely devastate small business owners?
    – paulj
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 15:33
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    The obvious reason is the alliteration in "fight for fifteen". And even if go for a slogan like "tweak towards twenty", it is just not as catchy. Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 16:47
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    @paulj, it's more related to the fact that Republicans still have control over the Senate to deny pretty much anything they want. Repubs say the Dems have control, yet Dems don't have the ability to pass any and every legislation they want because of Repubs using the filibuster and other measures to prevent it. And some things need more than a simple majority to pass, which the Dems definitely don't automatically have. Repubs make the same statements when talking about why Trump didn't just pass everything he promised when Repubs had control over the House and Senate during his first 2 years. Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 17:12

4 Answers 4


Simply because getting support for a $15/hour minimum wage is hard enough as it is. If they were to keep increasing the rate that they are publicly asking for it would make it harder and harder to get support.

A better method would be to build in automatic increases based on changes in the economy that are easier for people to accept.

A good example of this would be in Nebraska with an increase in minimum wage that will auto adjust for inflation.

Following national trends, Nebraskans vote to increase the state’s minimum wage

Initiative 433, which raises the state’s minimum wage by $1.50 per year for the next four years, passed with more than nearly 60% of the votes, according to unofficial results from the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office.

After 2026, the state’s wage will be tied to the Consumer Price Index to adjust for inflation. In a high inflation year like 2022, Nebraska’s wage would have grown by 8%.

With the minimum wage tied to inflation it becomes much harder to point to a specific wage amount and claim people don't deserve it.

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    Well, give it another 10 years, and $15/hour would be the same as $7.25 in 2009... but I see your point about pegging it to inflation, that's quite a powerful mechanism. Not very trustworthy, though, without protection against accidental legislative majorities, but still.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 22:02
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    @Juhasz Except you are ignoring the fact that many people say that $15/hour is too high for minimum wage and trying to adjust it higher will just increase the number of people saying that it is too high. People use silly example of high school students working fast food jobs as a reason why we shouldn’t increase the minimum wage. Do you think that is something that wouldn’t get worse if the ask for a higher minimum wage got even higher?
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 23:05
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    "Many people" <- Well, yes, but a marked minority by a significant margin.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 0:10
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    @JoeW The Dutch solution to that is that minors have a lower minimum wage for teenagers than adults, with the reasoning "teenagers don't need to pay rent" and "gives inexperienced and immature starters a labour market advantage to reduce youth unemployment" (it is also why supermarkets seem to mostly employ teenagers who are let go when they turn 18 because they have become too expensive).
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 7:31
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    @aaaaaa That would be true for businesses but that isn't the issue here. The problem is that you have plenty of objections to a $15/hour minimum wage and that is only going to increase the higher you say that should be such as a $20/hour minimum wage. Tying it to the inflation rate is much easier to sell to the voters as they won't see a large scary number that opponents can point to. Instead they will see that it increases as things get more expensive and that is easier for them to understand. This is something that easily passed in a strong Republican state.
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 17:44

"Fight for $20" might get elevated for places where a $15 minimum wage is already won - but there could also be a priority to make sure minimum wage "loopholes" are dealt with as well.

On top of what @Joe W said in a comment about the fight for $15 minimum wage is hard, the next question becomes "Which minimum wage are we fighting for?".

Generally, it'll be a little easier to leave tipped wages a little bit behind, but that leaves an awkward conversation when trying to move to "$20 minimum wage/Inflation-tied wage" - what do we do about the exception cases?

Usually, the "Maximum Tip Credit Against Minimum Wage" aligns so that it, and + "Minimum Cash Wage", would add up to the Minimum Wage - listed as the "Basic Combined Cash & Tip Minimum Wage Rate", which sounds like it should be fine as far as making sure it aligns to whatever the minimum wage is fought for. If you look at the site, however, they have a footnote regarding the "Minimum Cash Wage 1"

Other additional deductions are permitted, for example for meals and lodging.

You can also see some States where they do have Minimum Wage Laws, but may not apply it to tipped employees.

Bringing this to areas where "Fight to $15" has worked, and an area I'm more familiar with (Even if outside the U.S.), in British Columbia, Canada, we focused on ensuring we could remove the liquor servers lower minimum wage before we followed up with a $15.65 an hour minimum wage that helped ensure we tie future increases to the rate of inflation.

As a result, even if Minimum Wage lags due to not being fought for a higher amount during the fight for $15, there can be priorities that helps ensure that more income is still being fought for than it appears to be with the movement's name.

  • Since so many charities ask "for just $19 a month you can help us ..." (with that specific amount apparently based on a lot of research), perhaps "Fight for $19" would make more sense than "Fight for $20". Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 4:46
  • @DavidHammen: It'd depend on the cost of living that the wage is expected to cover - I doubt that one could, for example, say "Fight for $19.99!" and get as much traction in places where the cost of living might be closer to $25/hour. Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 4:51
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    The research that went into all of those "for just $19 a month" campaigns found that even though $19 per month versus $20 per month represents just $12 over the course of a year, people perceived $20 per month as being a lot higher than $19 per month. I suspect that "Fight for $19" would have a much better chance of winning than "Flight for $20". Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 4:53
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    It makes no sense, but then again a lot of Americans are notoriously bad at mathematics, even simple mathematics. "Fight for $20" would be a much harder hurdle than "Fight for $19". I suspect that even with inflation ramping up, we will still be seeing charity ad after charity ad asking us for "just $19 a month" in the upcoming couple of months. They won't cross that $20 line. Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 5:00
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    @DavidHammen that may be true, especially at the level of popular support, but it is perhaps worth considering demographic differences. People who oppose increasing the minimum wage may be disproportionately business folks with accountants who are more used to thinking about money more rigorously. That won't remove the effect but it may decrease it.
    – Josiah
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 19:28

Because just like a lot of political slogans, "Fight for 15" is a brand, not a precise policy proposal. The Serious People do not think it will pass verbatim as a flat across-the-board thing. They accept that there will be loads of adjustments, carve-outs, negotiation, and so on - say adjustments by geography, or city vs rural, or link to inflation, or by age.

Adjusting it upwards would not only 1. harm the simplicity and long continuity of the brand, but also 2. draw attention to the people who fight against it with arguments like "it's too much, too expensive, too hard for businesses".

Now: is it a good idea to maintain this brand? Does it harm or hamstring future negotiations, forcing the end negotiated values downwards? That's definitely a serious question. The Dems have long been accused by liberals by never fighting for more than a quarter loaf, by starting off their negotiations at half a loaf already. That's a worthwhile discussion too.

But as for the original question: I feel like that has an easy answer as stated above.

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    This is the answer I like. The slogan is the thing, "fifteen" is a nice round number, halfway between 10 and 20. "Fight for fifteen" is alliterative, and so better as a slogan than "fight for eighteen" (or whatever)
    – James K
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 22:09

Along with the good answers by Joe W and Alexander The 1st, there's another pressure that's vocal, but less based on fact.

There are many people who are working low paying jobs and have college or other degrees beyond a simple high school diploma who are working for less than $15 or $20 an hour. Some of these people, unfortunately, apparently want to have the ego boost of holding their wages over someone else's head, as in they want to feel they are worth more than someone "flipping burgers". They believe that working in an "unskilled" job like that should warrant a much lower pay than they are getting.

These low paid employees, oftentimes in tech position or other office work, want to feel like they are worth more than the average restaurant employee, which they also usually consider to be one of, if not the lowest forms of employment. They make the argument that these restaurant employees should be making less than them, using various excuses that make very little real world logic.

Example: "I went to school for 4 years and am making $15 an hour, so why should someone who is still in high school make that much?"

This is while they are ignoring the fact that they are being severely underpaid themselves and that having the minimum wage increased would work heavily in their favor to get wage increases for their position.

The reality is that these low paid office workers should also be making higher wages. If the minimum wage is $15, they should be making at least $20-25, if not more. And if the minimum wage is $20, then they should easily be making $30-40. But the overly simplistic way they see the increase of the minimum wage doesn't allow them to understand this.

There's also the corporate world which has many people (even those not on the low pay end of the scale) convinced that businesses can't afford higher minimum wages. It's long been the rule of thumb to fire people to control spending to increase business profits, which employees fear would cause them to lose their jobs. This continues even during times when businesses report record quarterly profits (which also flows into increased inflation rates, but that's off topic here).

Along with that, the corporate world has somehow convinced workers that doubling the minimum wage will double the cost of having employees which will in turn double the price of products and services. That could only be true if all employees were paid minimum wage and if product & service prices were tied directly to the wages of employees.

Neither is actually true. This can be proven with simple logic. Management, especially C-suite level management, aren't paid minimum wage. In fact, CEOs are paid, on average, +300 times what their median paid workers are (not even the lowest paid workers). Also, products and services have been steadily increasing for over 40-60 years to be 10 times or more what they used to cost, while wages have only increased 2-3 times in that same time period. The prices of products and services are also dependent on the costs of travel/shipping, equipment, building rents/purchases, materials, and a whole bunch of other considerations.

The prices of products and services also depend on how much profit the business wants to extract from their customers. There's nothing inherently wrong with profit, but the corporate world wants you to believe that they are running on bare subsistence profits which just barely cover the cost of wage, while at the same time boast those record profits I mentioned earlier, as well as record profit sharing with their stakeholders, record bonuses and salaries for their CEOs, record amounts of stock buybacks, and other examples of how much money they make. Corporations are also laying off people as they boast record profits.

So, when you combine the egos of low paid employees and the fear of losing a job, there's a lot of push back against doubling the minimum wage. That fear is a huge part of why the "Fight for 15" hasn't already succeeded. And that fear is multiplied when instead of doubling the minimum wage, it's suggested we nearly triple it to $20.

Some of the opposition to the $15 or more minimum wage raise confirm most of what I said, especially about losing jobs.

The "Fight for 15" movement has started looking at $18-20 an hour, but has seen critics cite restaurant closures and other issues as relating directly to the increased pay rates.

Studies show that $15 an hour isn't a living wage, as reported last year, and while some people are fighting for higher minimum wages, they immediately get pushback about corporations laying off people and how it negatively affects business profits.

I've yet to find any article on reliable news media that states opposition to the minimum wage increase is due to egotism, but it's all over social media. When anyone talks about the increase, it's almost guaranteed to mention that "burger flippers" should be making less money than the posted does, even to the point where I've seen people saying that $7.25 is over paying these workers. When you get people to go on record they think people deserve to be paid less, they couch the jobs as "unskilled labor".

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    This "That could only be true if all employees were paid minimum wage" is quite disingenuous following several paragraphs wherein you argued for other wages to be indexed to minimum wage....
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 20:50
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    @BenVoigt, and yet the fact that CEOs make over 300 times the median worker salary offsets a very significant amount of the wage floor rise. When you also factor in the stock buybacks, shareholder payouts, C-suite bonuses, and other business practices culminating in tens of billions of dollars spent, even a $100 million increase per year in wages across a large corp is nothing. Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 21:38
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    I came here to comment on that misleading "CEOs make 300x what their workers make" and found that I already did so. However, today I found the BLS statistics for CEOs: bls.gov/oes/current/oes111011.htm and for all workers: bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000 There are approximately 200,000 CEOs who make a mean salary of about $250K. The annual mean wage for all occupations is about $62K, so the average CEO makes about 4x the average worker.
    – shoover
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 1:38
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    @shoover, about 17% of the US works for a S&P 500 company, roughly 25 million people. businessinsider.com/… And trying to dilute statistics with overly simplistic math doesn't really help you. Not to mention that the "annual mean wage" you state includes CEOs, and location matters, too, since a living wage in one part of the country is unlivable in other parts. indeed.com/career-advice/pay-salary/average-salary-in-us Commented May 22, 2023 at 16:01
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    If you want to cherry pick your data to only publicly traded companies or only Fortune 500 companies, go ahead, but then say so, and not just "the average CEO makes 300x what its workers do." If you want to talk about CEOs in general, then you ought to use statistics that include all CEOs, not just your cherry-picked data. And yes, I realize that it's the media who are doing the cherry-picking, and most people are just following along and quoting the media.
    – shoover
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 16:41

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