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Delaware Senate Democrats

Delaware State Senate passes $15/hour minimum wage bill

March 18, 2021

DOVER – The State Senate on Thursday passed legislation to lift families out of poverty by gradually raising Delaware’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

“The economic health of this nation turns on a core proposition: if you put in a hard day’s work, you will earn a fair day’s wage that will allow you to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head,” said Sen. Jack Walsh, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 15. “That was the premise behind the federal minimum wage when it was created to lift America out of The Great Depression and that’s why my colleagues and I today pledged our support for the grocery store clerks, retail workers, janitors and long-term care workers who stood on the frontlines during the greatest public health crisis of our lifetimes.”

Under Senate Bill 15, Delaware’s base hourly wage would increase to $10.50 on January 1, 2022 – allowing time for the state’s small business sector to recover from the pandemic. The bill would add another $1.25 raise in 2023, followed by a $1.50 raise in 2024 and a $1.75 raise in 2025.

According to the Delaware Department of Labor, close to 150,000 Delawareans would be impacted by Senate Bill 15, including 35,000 workers currently earning the state minimum wage of $9.25 an hour.

“When you have a full-time job, you should be able to count on that paycheck to keep a roof over your head, food on your table, and cover your family’s basic expenses. For so many people earning the minimum wage right now, that’s just not possible,” said Rep. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington, the prime House sponsor. “This legislation is a major step toward restoring the promise that a job brings with it a fundamental level of dignity and peace of mind for every Delawarean. I want to commend my Senate colleagues for advancing it and look forward to passing it in the House.”

Delaware’s current minimum wage – set in 2019 – offers what is now a bare subsistence-level of pay for most low-wage workers, who are earning just $1,480 a month before taxes.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the average 2-bedroom apartment in Delaware now costs about $1,142 a month, leaving minimum-wage earners with less than $84 a week for groceries, medicine, car insurance and other necessities.

Those impossibly tight margins help to explain why 13% of Delaware children live below the poverty line and 20% are unsure of where their next meal is coming from.

The economic and social impacts of Delaware’s low minimum wage fall disproportionately on women and people of color. According to the Economic Policy Institute, nearly 60% of minimum-wage earners are women and nearly 50% are people of color.

Delaware is also trailing behind its neighbors when it comes to base-level pay.

On May 1, Delaware’s current minimum wage will be lower than the base pay required in four out of five surrounding Mid-Atlantic states, including New York ($12.50), New Jersey ($12), Maryland ($11.75) and Virginia ($9.50).

Each of those states is already on track to reach a $15 an hour minimum wage by 2025. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed raising the Keystone State’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2027.

Delaware Governor John Carney’s budget recommendation for FY2022 proposes spending $4.2 million this year as part of an effort to gradually bring wages for all state workers to $15 an hour. Senate Bill 15 would formally institute those raises and extend them to all workers in Delaware. 

“When we began the 151st General Assembly, we made a commitment to aggressively tackle the economic, public health and racial justice issues Delawareans are facing every day,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark. “This legislation represents a major step toward fulfilling that promise and I am proud of my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus, every one of whom signed on as a cosponsor of SB 15 and voted to pass this legislation today.”

SB 15 now heads to the House for consideration.