Wait, did we hear that correctly?
A handful of Republican legislators in Harrisburg are saying this budget season might be the time to raise Pennsylvania’s woefully deficient minimum wage.
That would be progress.
For the last five years, Gov. Tom Wolf and minority Democrats in the Legislature have been making the case that Pennsylvanians can’t afford to live, much less raise a family, on the state’s $7.25 minimum wage. Not without government assistance, help from food banks, working multiple jobs.
All of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have taken action recently to help those at the bottom of the wage scale. In February, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour on July 1, then set it on a path to reach $15 for most workers by 2024.
Wolf wants to do something similar. He proposes to raise the state’s minimum to $12 per hour this year and bump it by 50 cents annually until it hits $15 in 2025. He also wants to eliminate the $2.83 per hour minimum for workers who rely on tips.
Majority Republicans in the state House and Senate have resisted, arguing that raising the minimum wage hurts employers who rely on low-wage workers, along with workers who need the opportunity to start in entry-level jobs. And it’s never a good idea to mandate higher wages in a bad job market, they say.
So what’s different this year?
For one thing, the Democratic governor and GOP leaders aren’t facing a budget crisis. They expect to pass an on-time budget by June 30, with no new taxes or increases. That what happens when the state runs a $800 million revenue surplus instead of a multi-billion-dollar deficit.
Pennsylvania’s economy and job market are on the upswing, too.
It’s this isn’t the year to help out low-paid Pennsylvanians, it may never arrive.
There are plenty of analyses and studies looking at the impact of raising the minimum wage. Some focus on the plight of those living at subsistence level; others defend the need to maximize job growth and retention.
One eye-opening figure was released recently by the Keystone Research Center. It found that a move to $15 per hour would boost the wages of 2.2 million workers in Pennsylvania — about 37 percent of the state’s resident workforce. In Northampton County, that would raise the income of 48,000 people, and in Lehigh County, 57,000, according to the center.
It’s encouraging that partisans in Harrisburg aren’t fighting over “how,” but “how much.” Some Republicans are countering Wolf’s $15 an hour target with something closer to $12 an hour.
If lawmakers are serious about helping Pennsylvanians keep up with wages in neighboring states and share in a better economy, they need to make a significant move here — and index a minimum wage increase over time.
Easton Express Times