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Once a marginal idea, the minimum wage of $ 15 makes big gains

It started in 2012 with a group of protesters outside a McDonald’s demanding a minimum wage of $ 15 – an idea that even many liberal lawmakers saw as extravagant. In the years that followed, their struggle gained traction across the country, including in conservative states with low unionization rates and generally weak labor laws.

On Friday, 20 states and 32 cities and counties will raise their minimum wages. In 27 of those places, the wage floor will reach or exceed $ 15 an hour, according to a report released Thursday by the National Employment Law Project, which supports minimum wage increases.

The force of the movement – a voting measure to raise Florida’s minimum wage to $ 15 by 2026 was passed in November – could put further pressure on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage by 7.25 $ an hour, where he’s been since 2009. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has approved $ 15 an hour federally and other changes sought by labor groups, such as ending the practice of a lower minimum wage for workers such as restaurateurs who receive tips.

But even without congressional action, union activists said they would continue to push their campaign forward at the national and local levels. By 2026, 42% of Americans work in a place where the minimum wage is at least $ 15 an hour, according to an estimate by the Economic Policy Institute cited in the NELP report.

“These wages which are rising in a record number of states are the result of years of advocacy by workers and years of walking in the streets and organizing their colleagues and their communities,” said Yannet Lathrop, researcher and political analyst for the group.

Pay rates rise as workers grapple with a recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic that has left millions unemployed.

“The Covid crisis has really exacerbated inequalities in society,” said Greg Daco, chief US economist for Oxford Economics. “It has given more strength to these movements which are trying to ensure that everyone benefits from a strong labor market in the form of a sustainable salary.”

During the pandemic, workers were subjected to time off, pay cuts and reduced hours. Low-paid service workers have not had the opportunity to work from home, and the customer-contact nature of their work puts them at increased risk of contracting the virus. Many retailers gave workers raises – or “hero pay” – at the start of the pandemic, to quietly end the practice in the summer, even as the virus continued to soar in many states.

“The coronavirus pandemic has plunged many working families into extreme poverty,” said Anthony Advincula, director of communications for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a nonprofit focused on improving wages and working conditions . “This increase in the minimum wage will therefore be a welcome huge boost for low-wage workers, especially in the restaurant industry.”

Mary Kay Henry, international president of the International Union of Services Employees, said the labor movement will make getting even more workers to $ 15 an hour or more a priority in 2021.

“There are millions of additional workers who need to have more money in their pockets,” she said, adding that the election of Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would strengthen the ‘effort. “We have an incredible opportunity.”

Since many hourly workers are black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian, people of color stand to gain from increases in the minimum wage. A 2018 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that workers of color are much more likely to earn poverty wages than white workers.

“This is the most spectacular action to create racial equality,” Ms. Henry said.

Some economists say lifting the minimum wage will benefit the economy and could be an important part of the recovery from the pandemic recession. Part of the reason for this is that working poor people typically spend most of the money they earn, and that spending mostly takes place where they live and work.

Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, said that after the 2007-2009 recession, growth was anemic for years as wages stagnated and the labor market slowly recovered. his path.

“There has been a broader recognition that the lackluster wage growth we’ve seen over the past 30 years and since the Great Recession reflects structural imbalances in the economy and structural inequalities,” Ms. Bahn said.

Many business groups retort that raising the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, already in the grip of the pandemic. More than 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently or for the long term during the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Raising the minimum wage could lead employers to lay off some workers in order to pay more for others, said David Neumark, professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine.

“There is a ton of research that indicates that increasing the minimum wage can lead to job losses,” he said. “A lot of workers are helped, but some are injured.”

A 2019 Congressional Budget Office study found that a federal minimum wage of $ 15 would raise the wages of 17 million workers earning less than that and potentially an additional 10 million workers earning slightly more. According to the study’s median estimate, this would result in the loss of an additional 1.3 million workers.

In New York, Republicans in the state Senate had urged Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, to stop the increases that went into effect Thursday, arguing they could be “the last straw” for some. small enterprises.

While increases in the minimum wage beyond a certain point could lead to job losses, Ms. Bahn of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth argued that “we are a long way from that point.”

Economic research has shown that recent minimum wage increases did not cause huge job losses. In a 2019 study, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that wages had risen sharply for leisure and hospitality workers in New York counties bordering Pennsylvania, which had a lower minimum, while employment growth continued. In many cases, higher minimum wages are applied over several years to give companies time to adjust.

Regardless of whether there is federal action, more state voting initiatives will seek to raise the minimum wage, said Arindrajit Dube, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“At a fundamental level, people think it’s about fairness,” Dube said. “There is broad support for the idea that people who work should be paid a living wage.”

Jeanna Smialekcontribution to reports.

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Biden makes gains in key states as Anxious Nation awaits winner

Joseph R. Biden Jr. gained ground in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia on Thursday, as the slow vote count in those contested battlefield states brought him closer to capturing an electoral majority and the defeat of President Trump.

As an anxious country waited to know the winner, the two candidates emerged towards the end of the day to make remarks drastically different in tone and content.

During a brief appearance to reporters in Wilmington, Del., Mr Biden said he remained convinced he would win in the end, but did not claim the White House.

“Democracy can be messy at times,” said Biden, who held the lead in Arizona Thursday night but lost ground there. “It also sometimes takes a little patience. But this patience has now been rewarded for more than 240 years with a system of governance that is the envy of the world.

He called for calm and stressed that “every ballot must be counted”.

Hours later, during a stunning appearance in the White House briefing room, Mr. Trump lied about the counting underway in several states, citing a conspiracy of “legal” and “illegal” ballots being tabulated and claiming without proof that states were trying to deny him his re-election.

“They’re trying to steal an election, they’re trying to rig an election,” the president said from the White House briefing room. He also suggested unfounded bad behavior in Philadelphia and Detroit, cities he called “two of the most corrupt political places.”

Mr. Trump’s remarks, mostly read from the notes, were at times more empowering than provocative. Far from insisting he would stay in power, he used much of his appearance to complain about pre-election polls, demonize the news media and try to put the best face on the results. Tuesday, touting his party’s Congressional gains. He did not answer journalists’ questions.

For all of his complaints, Mr. Trump has only himself and his own party to blame for the delayed vote count in a number of states.

State and local Republican authorities have refused to let localities count postal votes until Tuesday in some states. And because of Mr. Trump’s months-long attacks on mail-in ballots, more Democrats than Republicans voted this way, allowing Mr. Biden to garner the bulk of the votes by mail.

In his speech, Mr. Trump expressed no concerns about the extended vote count in Arizona, a state where he cut Mr. Biden ahead of time as more ballots were compiled.

Republican leaders offered no immediate response to Mr. Trump’s remarks, but a small group of maverick party lawmakers denounced his comments, seeking to reassure voters that there was no reason to believe the integrity of the election had been compromised.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and frequent critic of Mr. Trump, offered the sharpest rebuke, saying “this is getting insane” and demanding that the president stop “spreading debunked false information.”

Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and adviser to Mr. Trump, told ABC that “we haven’t heard of any evidence today,” adding the president’s actions: “Anything he in fact, it is ignited without informing.

Yet there were also Republican lawmakers who rushed to Mr. Trump’s defense, siding with him in mistakenly claiming that the count was illegal and that Democrats were trying to cheat.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called Mr. Trump’s allegations that ballots were mismanaged in Pennsylvania “shocking” and told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that ‘he planned to donate $ 500,000 to the president’s legal defense. funds.

“They’re just trying to get a result – damn the law, damn the result,” Graham said of Democrats.

As the world watched to see if one of the most unusual presidencies in the country’s history came to an end, the patchwork of U.S. election laws created a confusing and agonizing day for both parties, not to mention millions of people. Americans eager to end the campaign.

Mr Biden’s advantage in Arizona, a state the Associated Press has previously called for naming the former vice president, narrowed as thousands of votes were compiled. But in Georgia and Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump saw his first advantage dwindle as the postal ballots were counted.

Until Mr Trump’s remarks Thursday night, he had not appeared in public since he used an appearance in the middle of the night on Wednesday to insist he had already won. But he did post angry Twitter messages, and he continued to do so on Thursday.

“All of the states recently claimed by Biden will be legally challenged by us for voter fraud and state voter fraud,” he said in a post, without specifying exactly what that would imply. “STOP THE ACCOUNT!” he exclaimed in another tweet.

Chasing the president, Twitter called some of the posts “contested” and said they “could be misleading about an election or other civic process.”

In any event, stopping the tally now would only ensure Mr. Biden wins the presidency, as he leads Arizona and Nevada – states that together would give him 270 electoral votes.

The presidential contest was not the only close race to garner attention. A key Georgian Senate race that could decide the house majority has drawn even closer as Senator David Perdue, a Republican, saw his share of the vote drop by less than 50% in his race against Jon Ossoff, a democrat. If neither wins a majority, the race would head to a second round in January, opening up the prospect of a hotly contested battle for two Senate seats in Georgia. A second round is already planned during the special election for the other seat of the state.

On Thursday, an array of Mr. Trump’s political surrogates were deployed to some of the contested states to rally his supporters. And lawyers for the president have filed lawsuits in several states to question the integrity of the vote count in hopes of slowing the process.

He suffered two legal setbacks Thursday when judges in Georgia and Michigan ruled against his campaign. But Mr Trump snagged a small victory in Pennsylvania when a state appeals court granted his demand to force Philadelphia election officials to grant his election observers better access to areas where workers strip workers. bulletins.

With the tally moving slowly in the West, much of Thursday’s attention fell on Pennsylvania, where a victory would give Mr. Biden the presidency, regardless of the outcome in the other states. The state’s senior electoral official said Thursday evening that counties “still count” and offered no timeline for the count.

Mr. Trump’s lead in the state, roughly 26,000 votes at 10:50 p.m. EST, was diminishing as postal ballots were counted in heavily democratic towns and suburbs.

Both parties held dueling press conferences in Philadelphia earlier in the day, with supporters of Mr. Trump insisting his leadership would be maintained statewide and the city’s Democrats, led by the former depicting Robert A. Brady, unveiling an analysis of the remaining vote count that concluded Mr. Biden would win Pennsylvania convincingly.

In Georgia, the counting of ballots in many counties continued to erode Mr. Trump’s advantage in the traditionally Republican state: Thursday night he led with about 1,800 votes out of nearly five million votes.

Tens of thousands of ballots remained to be counted in the state at the end of the day, many in Chatham County, a Democratic-leaning county along the Georgia coast that is home to Savannah, and thousands more in counties in the Atlanta area that are also skinny Democratic.

The Georgia Republican Party has announced plans to bring up to a dozen lawsuits in the state.

In Arizona, Mr. Biden’s lead was reduced to about 46,000 votes, far less than on election night. There are over two hundred thousand ballots left to count, many of which are from Maricopa County in Phoenix.

Maricopa officials said they would release another report on Friday morning.

“We’re plugging in and making it happen,” said Adrian Fontes, the Democrat who oversees the county elections.

The vote count in Maricopa has, however, become strained since several armed protesters showed up at the county office on Wednesday evening. On Thursday afternoon, about 200 Mr. Trump’s supporters also gathered outside the Arizona Republican Party headquarters after a protest earlier in the day involving some 50 dissipated Trump supporters outside Phoenix City Hall.

Some in the crowd held up “Don’t Steal Elections”, “Shame on Fox News” and “Recall Fontes” signs. (Fox News called Arizona for Mr. Biden on Tuesday night, inflaming Trump supporters.)

Mr Biden led by just over 11,000 votes in Nevada, but local Las Vegas officials said Thursday that 51,000 Clark County ballots were counted and would be announced on Friday. Mr. Biden was winning the county by about eight percentage points. If he wins the bulk of the new votes, it would be nearly impossible for Mr. Trump to take over the state, as around 70% of Nevada voters live in Clark County.

As part of efforts to cast doubt on the state’s election, Mr. Trump’s Nevada state director on Thursday sent supporters a letter asking them to “get on camera / on file with the problems they faced when voting this election “to” outline the problems we see in polling stations / clerks. “

For its part, both publicly and privately, the Biden campaign spent much of Thursday trying to squeeze expectations about the certainty of results in individual states, even as his supporters were at their wit’s end when the margins turned out. much closer than many had expected.

In a briefing with reporters, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Mr Biden’s campaign manager, acknowledged that his tracks in Arizona and Nevada could tighten or fluctuate in some other way. It was a departure from her position the day before when she spoke of a “historic victory in a place like Arizona”, although she always expressed optimism about wins in both states.

“We expect, as in Nevada, that part of the margin will continue to close today,” she said of Arizona, a state she has been focusing on for months. “The Arizona story is one that Joe Biden is going to win in, but it’s going to take our time and patience as we count down.”

“Today’s story,” she said at another point, “is going to be a very positive story for the vice president, but also a story where people are going to have to be patient and be calm.

Reporting was provided by Catie Edmondson in Washington, Nick Corasaniti in Philadelphia, Richard Fausset in Atlanta and Jennifer Medina and Simon Romero in Phoenix.