Social-justice and labor groups across the country have been pushing cities and states to adopt a $15 minimum wage.
Mayor Muriel Bowser will introduce a bill to raise the District's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, a move that would add D.C. to a growing number of U.S. cities that have adopted the higher wage with the intention of combating income inequality.
"When the [D.C.] Council returns from its break early next month, I will send legislation to the Council to increase our minimum wage to $15 by 2020!" she said in prepared remarks for her State of the District Address, which was delivered at Arena Stage on Tuesday evening in Southwest D.C.
Bowser said that raising the city's minimum wage would help address the inequality that has grown in D.C. as the city boomed in recent years. If approved, the District would have the highest minimum wage in the region.
"In a city as prosperous as ours, we can level the playing field and we can make sure our residents are paid a good wage so fewer families are forced to leave," she said in the address.
Last month, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute published a report saying the income of the top 5 percent of D.C. earners was 52 times the income of the bottom 20 percent in 2014 — the fifth highest gap among the country's 50 largest cities.
The last wage hike happened in 2013, when the D.C. Council approved an increase to $11.50, from $8.25. That increase was phased in over three years; the minimum wage is currently $10.50, and will rise to $11.50 in July. After that, it will be indexed to inflation. The standard by federal law is a minimum of $7.25 an hour.
Last year, a group of social justice and labor advocates launched an effort to let D.C. residents vote on a $15 minimum wage in November. They've been stymied by a lawsuit filed by business groups opposed to the wage hike.
Bowser gave no indication that the wage hike would apply to tipped restaurant workers. They are paid $2.77 an hour by their employer, and have to make up the difference to the minimum wage through tips. If they don't, their employer has to cover the shortfall.
As part of their proposed ballot measure, labor groups want to do away with the tipped minimum wage and instead have restaurant workers make $15 an hour by 2024. Restaurant groups oppose the proposal.
"We appreciate the mayor's leadership on this issue," said Delvone Michael of D.C. Working Families, one of the group's backing the ballot initiative. "Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. I hope the Council will follow suit."
Bowser's proposal for a $15 minimum wage could face stiff opposition from business groups who say that operating costs are increasing too quickly in the city, especially relative to the rest of the region. They worry that a wage hike coupled with an ambitious employer-funded paid family leave bill being considered by the Council could drive businesses out of the city.
But in her address, Bowser said she would work with business leaders to manage the costs of operating in the nation's capital.
"As we raise the wage, I will also assemble a task force of leaders — from workers, to organized labor and the business community — to spend six months looking at how we work together to create a worker and business-friendly environment in which we maintain our regional competitiveness," she said.
But she also said that the higher wage shouldn't necessarily mean that businesses would lose out. "Cities and states across the country are proving that decent wages and strong business climates are not mutually exclusive," she said.
Both Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland are also increasing their minimum wages to $11.50, while Virginia's minimum wage remains at the federal standard — $7.25 an hour.