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How One Stroke of the Pen Could Lift Wages for Millions


Courtney Shackleford is one of two entry-level employees at the Ben and Jerry’s in Washington, D.C.,’s Union Station, where she makes $8.25 an hour. Like many workers in America’s growing low-wage economy, she struggles to make ends meet: Between her pregnancy and her tuition fees at Trinity Washington University, Shackleford doesn’t make enough to cover basic expenses.

“You want to move out of your parents’ house, at least get your own little apartment, and it’s just not enough because living wage in D.C. is so high,” said Shackleford, who lives with her father. [...]

Roughly 2 million low wage employees—defined as employees who make $12 or less per hour—work for companies with government contracts or other forms of government funding, according to a report from the think tank Demos. For several months, Washington-based workers who fit that description have been organizing under the banner of the labor group Good Jobs Nation, in the hopes that they can push President Obama to sign an executive order which would increase their pay.

Demos unveiled a proposal for what that executive order might look like in another report whose release was timed to accompany the most recent strike. If the U.S. government barred contractors from paying any one employee more than $230,700 per year, and if the savings created by that wage cap were redirected toward the lowest-paying employees, Demos estimates that low-wage workers could get a raise of $6.68 per hour.