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Why you should care that 2 states are raising the minimum wage to $15.

Wages are on the upswing, and we've got fast food workers to thank.

In November 2012, a group of New York City fast food workers walked off the job. They wanted higher wages, the right to form a union, and better working conditions. Many laughed.

They wanted $15 an hour. This was more than twice the city's then-minimum wage of $7.25, and such a demand seemed ridiculous at the time.

Fast forward to today, and the movement they helped start just scored a couple major victories.


A striking worker protests outside a Wendy's on Nov. 29, 2012. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Over the course of the next three years, New York City's minimum wage will jump to $15 an hour, and it's thanks in large part to the Fight for 15 movement.

The movement, which really took off following the New York protests, has been relentless in its work. A coalition of low-paid workers, unions, and supporters has forced the issue with protests across the country, turning what seemed like the impossible into reality.

Last year, Seattle became the first major city to announce a $15 minimum wage, followed by Los Angeles and San Francisco. Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown announced plans to expand that wage to the whole state, followed just hours later by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement.

Low wage workers and supporters protest for a $15 an hour minimum wage on November 10, 2015. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Why is $15 an hour such a big deal? Because in most cases, it's above what's called the "living wage."

A living wage is what an individual has to make in order to cover basic expenses like food, housing, transportation, and medical care. In Manhattan, for example, the living wage is $14.30 an hour.

By raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, workers will finally be able to afford to live in the same area they work. This is a huge deal.

Obviously, the living wage varies across the country, but the point is this: Nobody is getting rich off $15 an hour. These are the wages people need to be paid to survive in our world.


People protest in front of a McDonald's on Sept. 10, 2015 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

In response to the movement to increase the minimum wage, MIT developed a "living wage calculator." It's pretty cool.

You can visit their website, type in what county and state you live in, and find out in just moments what they've calculated to be the living wage in your area. The number might surprise you!


Protesters stand outside a McDonald's in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

If we believe in the American dream, upward mobility, or whatever you'd like to call it — we need to believe in a living wage for all.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that people who begin work at the low end of the income scale have a hard time moving up in the world. When people working full-time can't afford basic necessities like food and shelter, there's no amount of hard work that can help. Working will always keep them broke because they don't have money to save up.

If we want to believe the world is a fair and just place and if we want to believe that all it takes is a bit of hard work to move up in the world, then we need to believe in a living wage.

And, finally, for these cities and states taking action, we're getting there.

Protesters stand outside a McDonald's in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

And just to think that less than three years ago all of this seemed impossible. Looks like we've got some fast food employees to thank.

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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