EDITORIAL: Pa.'s minimum wage no longer defensible
Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That’s $58 a day; $290 a week; $1,160 a month. Before taxes.
It hasn’t gone up a penny in 10 years. And it was only increased in 2009 because the federal government mandated it. Neither federal nor state lawmakers have added to this pittance since. They should be embarrassed.
In fact, $7.25 an hour was insufficient 10 years ago; it is insulting today.
Gov. Tom Wolf would like to rectify this shameful situation. Republican lawmakers who control the General Assembly, unfortunately, are evidently shameless.
The governor is again proposing an increase in the state’s minimum wage — something he has done each year since he took office in 2015. His proposed $34.1 billion spending plan would hike the lowest legal wage to $12 an hour this year, then nudge it by annual 50-cent-an-hour increments to $15 an hour by 2025.
Unfortunately, more livable wages are something many GOP lawmakers believe Pennsylvania can live without.
As Wolf’s budget plan began wending its way through Harrisburg’s legislative gauntlet, his minimum wage proposal attracted many a critical GOP eye.
“The first House Appropriations Committee budget hearing featured members of the Republican majority repeatedly criticizing the broader impact of a minimum wage increase, including whether it would choke off the supply of entry-level jobs, squeeze small businesses or drive up inflation,” reported the Associated Press.
In other words, opponents are trotting out the usual excuses.
One legislator, according the AP, even wondered whether a higher minimum wage would be harmful to workers by threatening their eligibility for public benefits. Such compassion!
In fact, supporters and the governor’s office argue just the opposite: The wage hike would help tens of thousands of Pennsylvania’s lowest-paid workers to transition from public assistance, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and contributing to the economic vitality of the state as a whole.
For example, the Wolf administration forecasts that the initial increase to $12 an hour would result in some 17,000 adults leaving Medicaid next year and another 51,000 the following year, at a savings to taxpayers of more than $150 million.
Such arguments, unfortunately, have held little sway with opponents. The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, for example, pitches as an alternative something it calls career-oriented job training, “where educational institutions and employers work together to prepare students and workers for rewarding jobs.”
Which sounds fine, lack of specifics aside. But once those workers ascend to those “rewarding jobs” new employees will be needed for their previous minimum-wage positions. Different workers, same problem.
Pennsylvania would hardly be in the vanguard by raising its minimum wage; 29 other states — including all of those bordering the Keystone State — and the District of Columbia have already moved beyond the federal baseline. The remaining 21 states — Pennsylvania especially — should lose no time in following suit.
It’s a safe bet the state’s business interests and Republican lawmakers wouldn’t be quite so keen on a monthly salary of $1,160 were they forced to subsist on one.