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She was fired over the phone while in labor. And she’s still fighting to get her job back – CNN

CNN is committed to covering gender inequality wherever it occurs in the world. This story is part of As Equals , an ongoing series. Accra, Ghana — Grace Fosu was about to give birth at a maternity ward in Ghana’s capital Accra when she says she received a phone call from her employer, the Ghana…

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She was fired over the phone while in labor. And she’s still fighting to get her job back – CNN

imageCNN is committed to covering gender inequality wherever it occurs in the world. This story is part of As Equals , an ongoing series.
Accra, Ghana — Grace Fosu was about to give birth at a maternity ward in Ghana’s capital Accra when she says she received a phone call from her employer, the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS), telling her that she was being let go from her job. “I am in labor and you are calling me to tell me this, do you want me to die?” Fosu, 33, recalled telling the metro fire officer.

After hanging up, Fosu delivered a healthy baby girl, Salamat. But instead of feeling joy, she was consumed with grief. “For the dismissal, I went through hell ..

. I was very, very sad because I wasn’t expecting this,” Fosu told CNN about the September 2014 phone call. Fosu and her husband, Seidu Abubakari, had married the previous year, after meeting at an athletics tournament for Ghana’s security officials; Fosu ran the sprints for the fire service and Abubakari was a long distance runner for Ghana’s customs agency. Salamat was their first child, and they were looking forward to starting a family together. Read More Weeks after their daughter was born, the couple were summoned by the fire service and a formal dismissal letter, in which Fosu’s pregnancy was described as an “offence,” was handed to her husband. “When I opened the letter, I was confused. Then my body started shaking so I tried to control myself and my wife too,” Abubakari, 38, said, adding that fire service officials largely ignored Fosu’s presence in the room. Grace and her husband Seidu Abubakari in their uniforms.

The letter stated that Fosu was in violation of “Regulation 33 clause (6) of the Ghana National Fire Service Conditions of Service,” which prohibited female firefighters from becoming pregnant in their first three years of employment. Fosu had never before heard of the decades-old rule, which was established when the fire service was formed in 1963.

The spokesman for Ghana’s National Fire Service, Ellis Okoe, told CNN that the regulation was created because “fire service work involves a lot of strenuous effort” and that “if you are pregnant it could cause a lot of problems.” It’s unclear how many women have been affected by the regulation, but Fosu’s experience suggests a selective enforcement of the rule.

She says 11 other women in her class of firefighters were also pregnant within the same three-year period, but she was the only one to be kicked out of the service. Okoe said that the fire service “doesn’t have statistics” on all of those dismissed under the clause, and could not explain why Fosu’s peers who became pregnant were allowed to continue working. Fosu believes she was targeted over an incident in which she says she was sexually harassed by a senior male officer. She says the officer called her one evening demanding sex and gave her unsolicited advice on ways she could abort her baby. Abubakari, who witnessed the conversation, confronted the officer. But the couple never reported the incident.

Spokesman Okoe told CNN that the fire service has rules against sexual harassment and abuse, including an internal tribunal to investigate claims, which would have been utilized if Fosu had lodged a complaint.

Fosu says she never filed an official report against the officer — who is still in the service — because the harassment stopped after her husband confronted him. Grace dressed in her full fire service gear. After being dismissed and with nothing left to lose, she says she decided to take action against the fire service. She reported her dismissal to Ghana’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), an independent constitutional body with powers to investigate human rights abuses in the country. “Quite a number of similar cases had come from the uniformed services of Ghana,” CHRAJ commissioner Joseph Whittal told CNN, explaining that similar rules about pregnancy exist in Ghana’s armed forces, police and immigration service.

A Ghana Armed Forces spokesman told CNN that the military has a policy governing when women recruits get pregnant until six months past the end of the training period; it previously had a three-year ban like the fire service. A Ghana Police Service spokeswoman told CNN that women who got pregnant during their 18-month probation period were given maternity leave and allowed to return to work. CNN has reached out to the immigration service for comment on their policies. “Because the grounds for dismissal was based on a regulation, the only option was to seek a declaration from the courts invalidating it,” Whittal said. For years, CHRAJ had been waiting for a complainant willing to take such a case to court.

Women who had previously reported their dismissals on similar grounds to CHRAJ withdrew because they didn’t want to go through the court process, which can often be cumbersome and drawn out. But Fosu says she was not deterred. And as the lawyers at CHRAJ prepared to sue the fire service, another woman, Thelma Hammond, came forward with a similar story. Thelma (right), with her mother, at her graduation from fire service training school. Hammond, 36, was dismissed from the fire service in June 2013, more than a year before Fosu.

She too had a baby before her first three years of service were up. Hammond told CNN that, after her dismissal, her colleagues asked if she had refused advances from senior officers. Hammond said she hadn’t experienced any sexual harassment at the fire service and was shocked to lose her job. She says her first reaction was: “How can I take care of my baby?” In 2017, Fosu and Hammond filed a lawsuit against Ghana’s Fire Service, triggering what would become the country’s first successful gender discrimination case. In the Human Rights Division of the Accra High Court, lawyers for the fire service argued that vigorous training during the first three years of employment may “adversely affect the foetus and the would be mothers.

” But their reasoning didn’t stand up. In April 2018, after less than a year of court proceedings, Justice Anthony Yeboah declared the regulation “discriminatory in effect, unjustifiable, illegitimate and illegal.” The judge held that by giving other women a reprieve, the fire service had demonstrated that the training could be deferred until after pregnancy and that women were “entitled to the right to choose when to become pregnant.

” In his ruling, Yeboah said the dismissal of Fosu and Hammond was “[an] unwarranted, institutional onslaught on their fundamental human rights – right to work and freedom from discrimination.” He ordered their reinstatement as firefighters, the payment of all the salaries and bonuses lost due to their dismissals and compensation of 50,000 Ghanaian cedi, about $9,000 dollars, to each woman “for the trauma and inevitable inconvenience of the wrongful dismissal.

” The victory was a big win not just for the women, or the lawyers working the case pro bono, but for gender equality in Ghana. Thelma was fired after giving birth to her daughter, Martha Oppong-Sagoe.

Spokesman for the fire service Ellis Okoe told CNN that the service has since scrapped the policy “to reflect the changes of the time,” reducing the prohibition period from three years to one — the first six months of training and six months probation. But, nearly a year after the historic judgment, the fire service is still resisting the verdict. Despite losing an appeal in January, the GNFS has still not allowed Fosu and Hammond to return to work and is yet to compensate them. CHRAJ sent the service a letter demanding that they reinstate the women by February 28 or face contempt of court, but the date passed without any action.

In theory, Ghanaian women have the constitutional right to equality and freedom from discrimination, but the Fosu and Hammond’s case exposed the reality that sexism is still rife, Sheila Minkah-Premo, a lawyer and women’s rights advocate, says. “[Ghana] has made some strides with regard to women’s rights in some areas but has not done very well in other areas … women’s role in public life is abysmal with attempts to get an affirmative action law in place not gone far,” she said. Only 37 of the 275 members of parliament are women.

Still, the country does better than others in guaranteeing paid leave for mothers of infants. Ghanaian women are entitled to at least 12 weeks of paid maternity leave under the country’s Labour Act — the US, by comparison, guarantees nothing. But, Minkah-Premo says, Ghanaian employers find ways around the rules. “The challenge is with some discriminatory practices in some institutions when it comes to engaging women who are pregnant or who become pregnant within the probationary period or a defined period within employment .


. Some banks also have similar policies and these are discriminatory practices that must be stopped.” Hammond says that the sudden shift from a two-income household took a toll on her marriage, sparking frequent fights. Thelma (right) with her husband Terrance Oppong-Sagoe. “All the pressure was on my husband because the support I was giving him was no longer coming… [and] all the pressure of paying water bills, electricity bills, school fees, all [of these were] on him,” Hammond told CNN. Before she was let go, she had been saving to study human resources at university, but those dreams have been put on hold.

Fosu says that when she lost her job she felt she lost her identity as a strong, independent, working woman and she contemplated suicide. The internal struggle and financial strain that accompanied her dismissal has had knock-on effects on Fosu’s family too. In a desperate moment, she sold her wedding ring for a sixth of its value to buy food. The decision started a huge fight with her husband, who says he hopes to replace it when their finances are in better shape. In the meantime, the couple had to sell a plot of land where they planned to build a house. Today, they live in a small one bedroom home in a slum west of Accra. Still, the couple has hope.

Abubakari says he wants to study law one day so he can help other women, who went through what his wife has. But for now, all they can do is wait. “I’m praying that this job comes back to my hands.

I have a lot to give in my future,” Fosu said. Family photos courtesy of Grace Fosu and Thelma Hammond..

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The House just passed a bill to close the gender pay gap

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), right, and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), are seen in the Capitol. DeLauro is the author of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed this week. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call House Democrats easily passed the Paycheck Fairness Act on Wednesday — their latest in a long series of…

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The House just passed a bill to close the gender pay gap

imageHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), right, and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), are seen in the Capitol. DeLauro is the author of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed this week. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call House Democrats easily passed the Paycheck Fairness Act on Wednesday — their latest in a long series of attempts to make sure women and men are paid equally. The final vote was 242-187.

Democrats were joined by seven Republicans. To give you a sense of how long bill author Rep.

Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has been fighting for this cause, she first introduced the bill in 1997.

“Very simple concept: Men and women in the same job deserve the same pay,” DeLauro told Vox. “It used to be this was the fringe; it was a women’s issue, ‘Why do we have to deal with it?’” A gender pay gap has long existed; women who work full time in the United States make, on average, 82 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make.

And data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the gap has actually widened in the past four years. House Democrats last passed DeLauro’s bill when they were in the majority in 2009 (it failed the next year in the Senate).

Now back in the majority, they have a rare opportunity to pass a bill that has struggled to gain momentum in both chambers when it’s come up. Even though DeLauro and labor experts say a pay equity bill should be bipartisan, the Paycheck Fairness Act has languished out of the spotlight when Republicans have been in power. Democrats are hoping the momentum of the #MeToo movement and a historic number of women in Congress will give this idea new life. “This is historic. Rosa has been introducing this bill forever,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, according to an aide present. “But public sentiment — public, social media, and all the rest — with help us with this.

” What’s in the Paycheck Fairness Act The Paycheck Fairness Act essentially works to close loopholes in the landmark Equal Pay Act of 1963, which required that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. As Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell wrote , that bill didn’t exactly work as intended. Progress has been hampered in a number of ways: There are several reasons for the pay difference.

Women are less likely to negotiate pay, and more likely to be penalized when they try.They are also more likely to choose career fields that pay lower salaries and are often pushed out of the highest-paying professions in the country, which reward workers who put in long hours — schedules that disproportionately hurt working mothers . But after taking education, occupation, and work hours into account, researchers say that discrimination could explain about a third of the pay gap .

A 2013 study by the American Association of University Women found that women get paid 6.6 percent less than men in their first jobs, even after considering factors such as job location, occupation, college major, and number of hours worked. The Equal Pay Act says employers can’t differentiate salary based on gender unless a number of factors — including seniority, merit, and work level — come into play. On its face, it makes sense; a new entry-level employee would not be paid the same as a higher-level employee with more experience. But over the years, women found out they were making far less than male colleagues with the same experience and job titles. The most well-known example is Lilly Ledbetter , who sued her employer Goodyear Tire after finding out male managers with less experience were getting paid more money that she was as a female manager.

Ledbetter’s crusade resulted in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009. That law changed the Civil Rights Act so that workers could sue for fair compensation up to 180 days after receiving a discriminatory paycheck from their employers — rather than when the salary decision was made. DeLauro’s Paycheck Fairness Act tries to push back on lingering inequity in three key ways. Perhaps most importantly, it would ban employers from asking candidates how much they made in previous jobs. It would also get rid of employer rules that keep workers from talking about their salary information, so that women could ask how much their coworkers are making and find out if they’re underpaid. Third, the bill would require employers to be much more transparent about how much they’re paying workers.

Employers would have to share salary data with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, so that body could watch out for potential discriminatory practices. As Fernández Campbell noted, that’s gotten significant pushback from businesses that would like to keep that salary data private. And DeLauro said she’s heard complaints in the past from male lawmakers asking why they had to deal with a “women’s issue.” “Women self-select to get less money! Those were the arguments I heard,” DeLauro said.

But her bill doesn’t get at another important root cause of the gender pay gap: the economic impacts of motherhood. As Vox’s Sarah Kliff wrote, Princeton University economist Henrik Kleven found that mothers in Denmark (a country with a robust social safety net) saw their earnings take a significant hit after they had a child. Kleven compared the salaries of mothers to childless women and to men and found that “childbearing accounts for 80 percent of the gender wage gap in Denmark.” As Kliff wrote : Kleven finds a sharp decline in women’s earnings after the birth of their first child — with no comparable salary drop for men.

The cumulative effect is huge: Women end up earning 20 percent less than their male counterparts over the course of their career. His study is among a growing body of research that suggests what we often think of as a gender pay gap is more accurately discussed as a childbearing pay gap or motherhood penalty. Why it’s taking so long for Congress to do something about the gender pay gap It’s the 11th time DeLauro has brought up this bill, and its second time passing the House of Representatives. A number of things have hampered the bill’s progress, most notably the number of years Democrats spent out of the majority.

But other impediments include delays while the courts figured out how to interpret the original 1963 law, according to Vasu Reddy, senior policy counsel for the National Partnership for Women and Families. Many judges interpreted the clause “any factor other than sex” in the 1963 law very broadly, she added. “Problems don’t become apparent until you’ve had these bad rulings by the courts,” she said. “Civil rights evolved over time. I think there’s just been more awareness of different issues around equal pay.” DeLauro, Pelosi, and other Democrats recognize the time is ripe to press the issue again.

Equal pay for equal work is having a renewed moment, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement and high-profile Hollywood actresses going public about getting paid far less for big films than their male co-stars. But the problem is far more widespread, disproportionately hurting female and nonwhite workers.

“We are in a different environment,” DeLauro said. “We’re looking at the intersection of where the public is on men and women and the workforce, and we’re looking at a body that is over 100 women who are here. Equal pay for equal work is now the center of public discourse today.” It’s unclear whether the bill has a path in the Senate.

But with the most diverse House class in history, advocates are feeling optimistic that something can get done eventually. “I think there have been gaps in understanding around women’s experience that this new and diverse Congress can begin to close,” said Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School..

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House Democrats pass equal pay for equal work act

Ten years after President Barack Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, House Democrats voted Wednesday to approve the Paycheck Fairness Act, delivering one of the cornerstone pieces of their “For the People” agenda to the Republican-led Senate. The vote passed 242-187, primarily down partisan lines, as the full Democratic caucus voted…

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House Democrats pass equal pay for equal work act

imageTen years after President Barack Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, House Democrats voted Wednesday to approve the Paycheck Fairness Act, delivering one of the cornerstone pieces of their “For the People” agenda to the Republican-led Senate.
The vote passed 242-187, primarily down partisan lines, as the full Democratic caucus voted in favor of the bill and seven Republicans crossed the aisle to support it.
Stressing that while there has been progress towards pay equality in recent years, Democrats renewed the push for equal pay for equal work because women still earn just 80 cents to the dollar a man makes for the same work.
Lily Ledbetter, the plaintiff in a landmark employment discrimination case, was on-hand to join Democrats at the bill’s introduction on Jan. 30, urging Congress “to step up again.”
“I’m here because equal pay for equal work is an American value,” Ledbetter said.

“And it’s time that we have American reality.

(Alex Wong/Getty Images) U.

S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks as other House Democrats listen during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 30, 2019.

Women who work full time in the United States are paid on average 80 percent of what men are paid, according to a 2018 study by the American Association of University Women, an advocacy group that promotes equity and education for women and girls.
The analysis also found that disparities are even sharper among Latinas, at 54 percent, and black women, at 63 percent, and range by state from a low of 70 percent in Louisiana and Utah to a high of 89 percent in New York.
The political firepower that Democratic women possess heading into the 2020 presidential campaign continues to grow. There is a record number of women expected to seek the Democratic nomination and a record 102 women serving in Congress, but there is still a majority of white men serving in Congress.
“It’s historic,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of the bill. “And that it should happen at a time when we have over 100 women serving in the House of Representatives — that it should happen in the same Congress that we will also observe the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Amendment to have women have the right to vote: it’s all very historic. It’s all about progress.

(Alex Wong/Getty Images) Women’s equality activist Lilly Ledbetter speaks as U.

S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, right, and other Democratic Congressional members listen during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Jan.

30, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Ten years ago, women earned just 78 cents to each dollar a man earned at the same job.
If enacted, the bill would end so-called pay secrecy, ease workers’ ability to individually or jointly challenge pay discrimination and strengthen the available remedies for wronged employees, according to the bill’s sponsors.
The measure would strengthen and close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by holding employers accountable for discriminatory practices, ending the practice of pay secrecy, easing workers’ ability to individually or jointly challenge pay discrimination, and strengthening the available remedies for wronged employees, according to its author, Rep.

Rosa DeLauro.

“Today, we can make a difference for working women and their families. The biggest economic challenge of our time is that Americans are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on. This will be the first bill that the majority is passing to address that economic need for families,” DeLauro, D-Conn., said during debate on the bill.

“Paycheck Fairness puts gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages,” she said. “It better protects employees from being fired for sharing their salary with co-workers.

It establishes a grant program to provide salary negotiation training for girls and women. And, it ensures employers are not reliant on wage history when they hire an employee.”
There are 45 Democratic cosponsors on companion legislation in the Senate, though the bill is unlikely to advance any farther given the Republican majority.


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Maryland minimum wage: State passes $15 minimum wage bill

Workers rally for a $15 minimum wage outside the Maryland State House on March 13, 2019, in Annapolis, MD. Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images Maryland just became the sixth state to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. On Thursday, lawmakers managed to override Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a minimum…

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Maryland minimum wage: State passes $15 minimum wage bill

imageWorkers rally for a $15 minimum wage outside the Maryland State House on March 13, 2019, in Annapolis, MD. Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images Maryland just became the sixth state to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. On Thursday, lawmakers managed to override Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a minimum wage bill. Maryland’s current minimum wage is $10.

10, and the new policy willgradually raise the wage floor to $15 by 2025.

Hogan had blocked the bill earlier this week, claiming that such a change would “ devastate ” the economy. But it was clear early on that he would be unable to stop the national momentum building around a $15 minimum wage. Democrats control both chambers in Maryland’s General Assembly, and passed the wage hike bill with a veto-proof majority. On Thursday, they overwhelming voted to override Hogan’s veto by 96-43 in the House and 35-12 in the Senate.

Maryland is now the third state to phase in a $15 minimum wage so far this year, and the sixth overall. In February, New Jersey and Illinois did so, too. While Hogan’s veto was not surprising (he has always opposed a $15 minimum), it’s a striking position in a state where the $15 minimum wage is so popular with voters in Maryland and across the country . The law will benefit about 573,000 workers in Maryland who currently earn less than $15 —about 22 percent of the state’s workforce, according to the National Employment Law Project . Advocates for the wage hike didn’t get everything they wanted in the bill.

For example, it won’t eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers, which is $3.

63, and future changes to the minimum wage aren’t tied to inflation. The bill also continues to let businesses pay agricultural workers less than the minimum wage, and allows employers to pay young workers less, too. But the push for a $15 wage is gaining support across the country, and has even reached Congress. For the first time ever, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — another sign that the public pressure is paying off. It all started with frustrated McDonald’s workers in Illinois Passing the $15 minimum wage bill is still a major win for the fast-food workers whose movement helped 5 million workers get pay raises in 2019 .

Within five years , they’ve transformed an improbable proposal into a popular policy — one that would address, in part, the slow wage growth American workers are experiencing. The workers’ movement, called Fight for $15, organized strikes and rallies all across the country. But they saw little success until 2016, when California became the first state to hike hourly wages to $15, followed by Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, DC.

Business groups, meanwhile, are not happy about the fight for $15. And neither are their Republican allies in Congress. They’ve long pushed back against any effort to raise the wage floor at the federal level, claiming it would destroy small business and trigger massive job losses. But it’s getting harder and harder for Republicans to justify their view that free-market capitalism — the idea that when the economy grows and unemployment is low, employers will be forced to raise wages — will take care of everyone.

Workers who already earn $15 an hour still struggle to raise a family, so it’s no wonder that workers who earn less sometimes end up living on the streets . On top of this, Americans want the government to raise the minimum wage. Poll after poll shows widespread support , even among Republican voters. And a majority of voters want it increased to $15 an hour. That may explain why Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, recently toned down his usual criticism of efforts to raise the minimum wage, saying the chamber is “ going to listen .” Even McDonald’s, long criticized by labor activists for paying low wages at franchises, said this week that the company would no longer lobby against efforts to raise the minimum wage. The idea that raising the minimum wage is actually bad for workers is getting harder to support, as a growing body of research discrediting that claim emerges.

What research says about the impact of raising the minimum wage There are few topics US economists have researched more than the impact of raising a minimum wage. Their findings have varied over the past 30 years, but there are two things most mainstream economists now agree on . First, they agree that raising the minimum wage increases the average income of low-wage workers, lifting many out of poverty (depending on how big the raise is). Second, raising the minimum wage likely causes some job losses. The remaining disagreement revolves around how extreme the job cuts would be.

Some research suggests hundreds of thousands of American workers could lose their jobs with a modest increase to the minimum wage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist at the conservative American Action Forum, has pointed to a 2014 study from the Congressional Budget Office which estimates that a $10.

10 federal wage floor could lead to about 500,000 lost jobs because higher labor costs would lead some employers to scale back their staff. Other research concludes that increasing the minimum wage has an insignificant impact on employment, or none at all. The best way to evaluate the different conclusions is to analyze all the research findings together — what scientists call a “meta-analysis.” And the most recent ones suggest that the most likely impact on employment is minimal. For example, a 2016 study by economists at Michigan State University crunched data from 60 research studies on the minimum wage in the United States since 2001. They concluded that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage would likely reduce overall employment from 0.

5 percent to 1.2 percent. Another meta-analysis comes in the form of a new research paper by economists at the University of Massachusetts, University College London, and the Economic Policy Institute. They studied data from 138 cities and states that raised the minimum wage between 1979 and 2016.

The conclusion is that low-wage workers received a 7 percent pay bump after a minimum wage law went into effect, but there was little or no change in employment. In a 2018 working paper , soon to be published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics , economist Arindrajit Dube shows that raising the minimum wage significantly reduces the number of families living in poverty. For example, he concludes that a $12 minimum wage in 2017 would have lifted 6.2 million people out of poverty.

This growing body of research has helped lawmakers across the country argue for a $15 minimum wage. Maryland residents are the latest to win their case..

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