So far, those raises have lowered poverty levels while causing minimal job loss, says Lindner, who looked at 138 state-level wage hikes between 1979 and 2016.

A city-by-city approach addresses concerns that $15-an-hour may be too high—or too low—for some places. For example, Lindner estimates that a $25 minimum wage would be right for San Francisco. Given the city’s median wage levels and the high cost of living “you need a larger minimum wage to lift their living standards.” Meanwhile, New York City would warrant a lower minimum wage than San Francisco’s, since the median wage there is already $22 and the geography covers more of a range of jobs and incomes.

That said, setting levels locally cannot substitute a substantial increase in the federal minimum wage, which would ensure that workers in places that don’t change their policy get a raise too. There are also limits to local tailoring: Oregon and New York, for example, don’t allow localities to adopt their own minimums.  

To achieve a national wage floor, some economists argue a $12-an-hour rate would be an easier sell.

Still, some see Biden’s executive order as a useful start. “It’s not going to be as impactful as a minimum wage standard that applies to the labor market,” says Ben Zipperer, an economist at EPI. “But in the absence of that happening, I think it makes a lot of sense to push as many levers as possible to raise wages for those at the bottom of the wage distribution.”

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