Why Americans do (and don’t) support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour

Linley SandersData Journalist
Mark WhiteSenior Political Analyst
March 16, 2021, 2:57 PM GMT+0

Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour is popular in America, with a majority (55%) supporting it in the latest Economist/YouGov poll. But many Americans (26%) remain concerned that the minimum wage increase would ultimately hurt them and their families, with partisanship driving much of that fear.

The Congressional Budget Office released an analysis in February that projected a bill increasing the minimum wage would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty—but also reduce employment by 1.4 million workers. On net, cumulative pay to affected workers would increase by $333 billion.

A measure in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package would have increased the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. But the proposal did not make it into the final plan, which President Biden signed last Thursday.

Despite that, most Americans support (55%) a minimum wage increase, with two in five (40%) opposed. Republicans are one of the only groups solidly against it (21% support, 75% oppose). Those in households making at least $100k are split on the issue (47% to 49%).

There are a few reasons why Americans appear to support or oppose increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. One in five (21%) believe this raise would directly benefit them and their family. But slightly more believe it would be a detriment, as one-quarter (26%) of Americans believe the increase would directly hurt their family. Two in five Americans (40%) think that it would not significantly impact their lives.

And these beliefs seem to drive support: Almost all Americans who believe a $15 minimum wage would directly help their families support the increase (95%). Even those who say the wage increase would not have a direct impact on their lives tend to favor it, by 65% to 31%. The greatest opposition comes from those who think the minimum wage increase will directly hurt their families. Among this group, only one in eight (12%) support it, while 85% are opposed.

There is an underlying partisan divide about whether the minimum wage increase will ultimately help or hurt families, which reaches across all income levels.

Republicans with a household income under $50,000 annually tend to say the wage increase would either harm them and their family (44%) or not impact them (36%). Just 7% of Democrats with a household income under $50,000 believe it would cause them personal harm, and 43% say it would not have an impact. One in ten Republicans in the lowest income bracket see the $15 per hour wage as something that would directly help them, compared to 39% of Democrats.

There is a similar pattern among those with household incomes between $50,000 to $100,000: Republicans believe the minimum wage increase would hurt their families by 48% to 5%, while Democrats in this income bracket are twice as likely to see the federal raise as helpful (31%) rather than harmful (15%).

Three in five Democrats with a household income above $100,000 (60%) do not think they would be directly impacted if the federal wage rose to $15 per hour, compared to 31% of Republicans. But, a majority of Republicans in the highest income bracket (55%) believe the move would directly hurt them and their families, the most likely group to believe this. Only 12% of Democrats in the same financial circumstances believe the wage increase would directly hurt them.

One in five high-income Democrats (20%) believe the $15 per hour transition would help their family, compared to 4% of Republicans in the same income group. These high-income Democrats are about twice as likely (20% to 9%) to think a minimum wage increase would help their family than Republicans from the lowest income bracket.

Related: Broad support for Biden’s COVID-19 relief legislation

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between March 6 - 9, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample.

Image: Getty