Millions of working people—mostly women, and disproportionately women of color—struggle to support themselves and their families on poverty-level wages. Women are close to two-thirds of the workforce in jobs that pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour or just a few dollars above it. Women overwhelmingly are the essential but underpaid workers who have been staffing grocery stores, cleaning homes and offices, caregiving, and more to protect the public health and keep our economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. And women are more than two-thirds of tipped workers, for whom the federal minimum cash wage has been just $2.13 per hour for three decades.

Women’s overrepresentation in low-paid jobs is one factor driving the persistent gender wage gap: overall, women working full time, year round typically are paid just 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. This gap varies by race and is even wider for many women of color compared to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. These lost earnings not only leave women without a financial cushion to weather the current crisis, but also make it harder for them to build wealth, contributing to racial and gender wealth gaps and creating barriers to families’ economic prosperity.

Raising the minimum wage—and ensuring that tipped workers receive the full minimum wage before tips—can help lift women and their families out of poverty, narrow racial and gender wage gaps, and spur the consumer demand we need for a strong, shared economic recovery. If enacted, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 (H.R. 603/S. 53) would do just that: It would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2025. It would gradually raise the federal minimum cash wage for tipped workers until it is equal to the regular minimum wage and phase out unfair exemptions that have allowed employers to pay young workers and people with disabilities subminimum wages. And after 2025, it would automatically increase the federal minimum wage to keep pace with wages overall, ensuring that its value never again erodes as it has in recent decades.

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