Raising the minimum wage is often thought of as an economic issue. But as higher wages are linked to better health and well-being, particularly for vulnerable populations, the minimum wage is also an important issue in public health.

On Jan. 26, a group of congressional leaders introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. The bill would increase wages for nearly 32 million Americans, including a third of all Black workers and a quarter of all Hispanic workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. As most minimum wage workers are women, it would also narrow the U.S. gender pay gap.

Income and poverty are key determinants of health. Raising the wage reduces risks of early childbirth, dropping out of high school and premature death, research shows. Public health advocates have long supported raising the minimum wage.

Despite the known benefits, the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009, when lawmakers raised it to $7.25. Some states and cities have stepped up to raise their minimum wages, but 21 states still follow the federal rate. No state has a $15 minimum wage, though three come close: California, at $14, Washington, at $13.69, and Massachusetts, at $13.50. Several states are in the process of gradually raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“Let’s be clear: The $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., one of the sponsors of the Raise the Wage Act, said in a news release. “We can no longer tolerate millions of workers not being able to afford to feed their families or pay the rent. The time for talk is over. No more excuses.”

President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion package to address the impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic also includes language to increase the minimum wage. But there is debate whether such a measure can be enacted through the budget reconciliation process.