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The Year Ahead

President Biden Offers Workers Reason to Hope for a Better Deal

With Democrats in control, labor unions and advocacy groups look for a minimum wage boost, expansion of employee rights, and measures to end pay discrimination.
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Photographer: karzof pleine/Alamy

Labor unions and advocacy groups are pressing Democrats to leverage their control of the White House and Congress to enact policies that benefit workers, including facilitating the formation of unions and adopting a more expansive definition of what it is to be an employee. The Democrats’ tenuous control of the Senate may make it hard to pass some of the most progressive measures. President Biden may instead rewrite some rules, such as those that apply to federal contracting, by decree. And by continuing efforts to push the unemployment rate lower, the Federal Reserve may play an important supporting role in helping minorities and other less-advantaged groups reenter the job market.

The $1.9 billion economic relief plan Biden unveiled on Jan. 14 calls for boosting the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current $7.25. If successful, it would be the first increase enacted since 2007. More than half of U.S. states already have wage minimums above the federal floor. Still, Republicans and a few Democrats in Congress are sure to resist going to $15, arguing it will increase costs for businesses at a time when many are fighting to survive. Proponents say the increase would lower the poverty rate, which jumped by 2.4 percentage points from June to November as the effects of the first round of stimulus dissipated.