Thanks to President Bidens executive order requiring all companies with federal contracts to pay their workers at least $15 an hour, nearly 400,000 workers will get raises starting next week, when the order takes effect. According to tabulations by our friends at the Economic Policy Institute, the average wage increase will be $3,100, and more than half of the workers who benefit will be Black or Hispanic.
As EPIs Ben Zipperer writes, the contractor order will have spillover effects. Higher contractor wages will incentivize other firms in the local labor market to raise wages in order to recruit and retain workers who can now earn higher pay.
The Prospect has long urged President Biden, who faces a deadlocked Congress, to maximize his progressive impact through the use of executive orders and other executive action. Weve laid this out in our Day One Agenda series.
Some of this is already being carried out by Bidens appointees. His antitrust appointees are doing a superb job at the FTC and the Justice Department of slowing down merger-mania. At the Labor Department, we can expect more executive action to protect workers against wage theft and misclassification and to defend the right to unionize.
This pitch-perfect editorial from todays Wall Street Journal, demonizing my wonderful Brandeis colleague David Weil, shows how aggressive pro-worker regulators panic the right wing. As Weil returns to his old job as wage and hour administrator at the Labor Department, the Journal editorialists provide a nice preview of the great things he can do.
Biden himself could be doing a great deal more. He has the power, with the stroke of a proverbial pen, to cancel all student debt held by the federal government, thus liberating two generations of students and middle-aged graduates from a lifetime of debtors prison. He could cap the debt relief at, say, $50,000 to make it better targeted.
He also has the power, under existing federal law, the Bayh-Dole Act, to drastically cut drug prices by giving overpriced and urgently needed drugs developed with federal assistance (virtually all drugs) to generic producers. Merely threatening this would have a salutary effect. Its a travesty that drug companies manipulated patents on insulin, a drug in the public domain for a century, to make it a high-priced specialty drug. There are dozens of such cases.
These moves would not only be good policy. They would be very smart politics as Biden reconnects with his inner populist. And they would shame Republicans who opposed them.