Press Releases

News from EPI Raising the minimum wage in Washington, D.C. would give 114,000 workers a raise

In a new report, EPI senior analyst David Cooper analyzes Initiative 76—which would raise the minimum wage in Washington, D.C. to $15 by 2020. Cooper finds that the proposal would lift wages for 114,000 workers—about 14 percent of all working people in the District and more than a fifth of private sector and nonprofit workers. As the minimum wage increase is phased-in, affected workers would receive $329 million in additional wages. Once the minimum wage reaches $15, the average affected worker would earn roughly $2,900 more in annual pay than they would under the District’s current minimum wage law.

“Raising the minimum wage to $15 will give a powerful boost in income to D.C.’s low-wage workforce,” said Cooper. “It will strengthen their spending power, improve their living standards, and bolster the region’s economic vitality. It’s a step toward ensuring that all workers share in our region’s growth and prosperity.”

With a $15 minimum wage, D.C. would join a growing number of cities with similar or lower costs of living—such as San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York—that have already enacted $15 minimum wages.

The District workers who would benefit from the higher minimum wage are overwhelmingly adults, most of whom come from families of modest means, and many of whom are supporting families of their own. Other key findings include:

  • Virtually all of the affected workers are age 20 or older, and more than three-quarters are 25 or older. A mere 2.5 percent of the workers that would get a raise are teenagers.
  • The majority of affected workers (52.6 percent) are women.
  • Nearly 80 percent of the workers that would benefit from the increase are workers of color—slightly less than half of affected workers (46.7 percent) are African American and nearly a quarter (24.0 percent) are Hispanic or Latino.
  • Of the workers that would receive a raise, nearly three-quarters work full time, more than half (56.0 percent) have some college education, and more than a quarter (29.0 percent) have children.
  • Workers in low- and middle-income households would benefit disproportionately from the measure. More than one third (34.5 percent) of the workers that would get a raise are either in or near poverty.
  • On average, the workers that would benefit from the higher minimum wage earn half of their family’s total income.

Importantly, Initiative 76 would gradually eliminate the District’s subminimum wage for tipped workers, raising it to meet the full minimum wage by 2024. Currently, tipped workers in the District are paid as little as $2.77 an hour before tips, leaving them to rely on tips for the bulk of their pay. The resulting instability of tipped income leaves tipped workers—who are disproportionately women and people of color—nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as workers who get paid through a regular paycheck.

A similar proposal to raise the minimum wage has been put forth by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. However, the mayor’s proposal would only raise the tipped minimum wage to $7.50, or half the $15 minimum wage, by 2024. The increase in the mayor’s plan would be an improvement, but it would needlessly perpetuate the gender and racial inequality embedded in the current law.