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The public supports a $15 minimum wage is it realistic?
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A domino effect has lead U.S. cities to raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour. Polling also indicates that a majority wants the federal government to follow suit. - photo by Daniel Bendtsen
When fast food workers in New York City went on strike in 2012 for a $15 minimum wage, it was seen as a futile effort for a radical proposal. Their employers didn't budge.

A lot has changed since then.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill last month that will see a fast food $15 minimum wage for his state by 2018 an increase of 70 percent. The move came with controversy, but a recent Quinnipiac poll indicated that New York voters support the measure on a margin of 62 percent to 35 percent.

It's becoming a trend for liberal cities nationwide. Seattle and Portland, Oregon, both made the $15 wage move in 2014. Los Angeles voted this summer to make the jump, and it's expected to appear as a ballot issue in 2016 for Washington, D.C.

In 2018, only eight states are expected to have a minimum wage above $10. A nationwide jump to $15 could seem like a radical increase backed primarily by the supporters of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton, his rival for the party's nomination, has said she believes a wage that high would be an impossible ask on Capitol Hill.

Yet public support is very strong.

A poll earlier this year by Hart Research Associates found that 63 percent of the country favors raising the national minimum wage to $15 by 2020.

Conservative voters are also sympathetic. A poll by McLaughlin & Associates found that a majority of likely GOP voters in swing states favored raising the minimum wage to $15. Although a minimum wage hike that large didn't play well in red states, more than 60 percent likely voters in Iowa and New Hampshire wanted a wage increase of some kind.

Political candidates are paying attention.

Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio had previously argued against raising the minimum wage, but he said this week that "you cant live on $11 an hour." Ben Carson said at the most recent debate that he supported tying the federal minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

The federal minimum wage was at its highest in 1968, when, adjusted for inflation, its purchasing power was $9.54.

David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute says that economic growth could merit an even higher wage.

Had the minimum wage been raised since 1968 at the same rate as growth in productivity i.e., the rate at which the average worker can produce income for her employer from each hour of work it would be nearly $18.50 per hour," Cooper said.

But last week, Alan Krueger, former chairman of President Barack Obamas council of economic advisers, penned an op-ed in The New York Times in which he said a $15 minimum wage is a risk not worth taking.

But $15 an hour is beyond international experience, and could well be counterproductive, Krueger said. Although some high-wage cities and states could probably absorb a $15-an-hour minimum wage with little or no job loss, it is far from clear that the same could be said for every state, city and town in the United States.

Krueger supports Obamas proposed minimum wage of $12, which his research indicates would have a negligible effect on employment. Any supplements above that, however, should be done with expansions of earned income tax credits.

University of Massachusetts-Amherst professors Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lin published a paper this year in which they contend that fast food restaurants would be able to adapt to a $15 minimum wage without sacrificing jobs or profitability through a combination of turnover reductions, trend increases in sales growth, and modest annual price increases over the four-year period.