Legislators, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced a new bill on Capitol Hill this week to raise the federal minimum wage. The Raise the Wage Act would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $12 by 2020. Photo by APHA

Legislators, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. (at lectern), introduced a new bill on Capitol Hill last week to raise the federal minimum wage. The Raise the Wage Act would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $12 by 2020. Photo by APHA

The Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $12 by 2020, has undeniable public health implications.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., explained why last week while announcing the bill on Capitol Hill. But first, she introduced Rupa, a low-wage worker who worked 50 hours per week but struggled to keep her family healthy.

“Because of the fact that she earns so little, she can’t pay medical bills — or put food on the table,” Murray said. “I can tell you as a mom, when you take care of your kids and they’re healthy, then your whole family is better off. When you fear taking your child to the doctor because you don’t have enough income, they get sick. It impacts their learning and it impacts their life quality.

“So having a wage that allows you to put food on the table and keep (your children) healthy, and make sure that if they do need health care you can go to the doctor, is extremely important.”

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.;  Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.; and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez also joined the Hill briefing to outline details of the bill. If passed, the act would raise working wages for nearly 38 million Americans.

“You shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery or the geographic lottery to be able to work a full-time job and not have to live in poverty,” Perez said. “We face a challenge in our economy where too few people have a lot and too many people have too little. That’s not the best America we can be.”

Reid added: “This is something that presidents in the past have said is a good idea … We can get this bill done quickly.”

APHA has strongly supported minimum wage increases, including through a policy statement stressing that “federal, state, and local governments should consider and evaluate labor and tax policies to increase income to minimum sustenance levels for the working poor as an explicit public health intervention.”

Check out other APHA resources on minimum wage, including a story in APHA’s newspaper, The Nation’s Health, on how minimum wage increases improve public health, and a Q&A with Rajiv Bhatia, MD, MPH, on its impact in California.