Earlier this month, Pennsylvania hit a shameful milestone: 15 years since the state’s minimum wage was last raised. Governor Tom Wolf and Democratic state lawmakers took this opportunity to call on the state’s Republican-led legislature to join them and take action in addressing Pennsylvania’s wage crisis. Gov. Wolf has pushed for policies that would immediately raise the state’s minimum wage to $12/hour, with subsequent $.50 increases every year until reaching $15. He called the current system a “national embarrassment,” pointing out that even the people of red states like Florida have voted to put themselves on a path to $15/hour. Governor Wolf is right – it’s time for Pennsylvania workers to get a raise.
Over the last 15 years, the Pennsylvania minimum wage has sat at a pathetic $7.25/hour, and in that time has lost over 25% of its purchasing power to inflation. Minimum wage workers in PA today are living off of the equivalent of only three-fourths the already-inadequate wages they were earning in 2006. $7.25/hour, or just $15,000 a year for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, leaves the overwhelming majority of these workers living below the poverty line, unable to adequately provide for themselves or their families. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment, for instance, is almost twice what a person working minimum wage could afford. Even with a few roommates, affording a place to live is a serious struggle for low-wage Pennsylvanians.
This sorry state of affairs stands in stark contrast to Pennsylvania’s neighbors. Currently, every single state surrounding Pennsylvania has their minimum wage set significantly above $7.25, and most have enacted legislation that will increase their minimum wage even further in the coming years. Lawmakers in Maryland, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey have each passed bills that would raise the minimum wage in their states to $15/hour over the next several years, leaving Pennsylvania workers to fall further and further behind as a result of their legislature’s inaction.
This is a problem – not just for Pennsylvania workers, but also for business owners and the economy as a whole. Our economy is 70% based on consumer demand, so when a significant number of workers (aka consumers) are living on poverty wages, they don’t have money to spend on much outside of basic living expenses. With large swaths of the working population in Pennsylvania making barely enough money for the most basic expenses, they are completely unable to engage in the economy as consumers and make the kind of purchases that support a thriving economy.
We’ve seen the problems low consumer demand can cause businesses front and center over the last year and a half. The pandemic left so many businesses in ruin not because they were required to pay their employees higher wages, but because consumers didn’t have money to spend in order to keep those businesses afloat. As has already been demonstrated in states that have raised their minimum wage, it has shown to be beneficial to not only workers but also to local businesses and economies.
If Pennsylvania lawmakers are serious about helping their state recover economically from the pandemic, they can kick-start the recovery by giving tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians more money in their pockets to spend in their local communities. This incredibly important and incredibly popular issue should be a no-brainer for both sides of the aisle.
While this legislation is typically associated with Democrats, it’s an increasingly bipartisan issue amongst both red and blue voters. Just this past year Florida, a red state, passed their own legislation to increase their minimum wage to $15/hour with 61% of voters in favor. Since 1997, every single minimum wage increase ballot initiative has passed, even in deeply red states like Arkansas, Missouri, Alaska, and more. If Republican and Democratic voters can agree that hard-working Pennsylvanians deserve a raise, then their legislators should too. The answer is clear: raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage. It’s the right thing to do.