Since everyone's doing the 10-year challenge ... it's time for a minimum wage makeover

About twenty people from CASA rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Harrisburg in support of Governor Wolf's minimum wage hike proposal, Monday, June 17, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The latest social media craze is the "10-year challenge," which invites all your friends — and your great-aunt Estelle, too — to compare themselves with a photo taken 10 years ago.

Oh, vanity!

But we're not here to rail against meme culture.

Actually, a little self-reflection can be a wonderful thing, and a new year is a natural cut-off point to consider who we are and what we value.

So let's consider something that hasn't changed in 10 years. Indeed, it hasn't changed since — cue wide eyes emoji — 2006!

The minimum wage.

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Some Pennsylvania workers — including a good many "essential" employees who helped keep the economy chugging along through a global pandemic — haven't seen a pay increase from the paltry $7.25-per-hour in nearly 16 years.

For comparison, state lawmakers recently saw a record bump in their paychecks, up nearly 6% to $95,432 per year. And that's for the rank-and-file elected officials. Those in leadership posts earn even more, up to nearly $149,000 for House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, both Republicans.

And they aren't the only ones who got big hikes. Various other executive and judicial branch employees saw wage increases take effect Jan. 1, in accordance with a state law that links their salaries to the Consumer Price Index.

You know that saying "What's good for the goose is good for the gander"?

Well, if our elected officials have the gall to presume that they're entitled to a raise simply because of inflation, it's only fair that they extend the privilege to all workers.

There are various proposals stagnating in the Legislature that would offer some relief to common folk.

One of the most popular ones — which has the endorsement of Gov. Tom Wolf — would immediately increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour and set out a gradual pathway to $15. Beyond that, further increases would be tied to — you guessed it — the Consumer Price Index.

The Legislature's relative inaction on any proposal to increase the minimum wage, all the while luxuriating in their own pay raises, is downright shameful.

Apparently, the powers that be aren't persuaded by empathy, so we won't waste our breath (ink?) describing the impossibility of raising a child or buying a home on $15,080 per year.

They also probably don't care that 67% of registered voters recently told Franklin & Marshall pollsters they supported a $12 minimum wage.

But perhaps an economic argument will do the trick.

Pennsylvania is continuing to come up short when it comes to domestic migration, with a recent study of IRS data showing a net $1.7 billion loss in adjusted gross income. Likewise, population growth as a whole has stagnated, contributing to the loss of a congressional seat after redistricting.

Now, we're going to have the lowest minimum wage of any of our neighbors — and thus losing the competition for a skilled workforce.

Even West Virginia boasts an $8.75 minimum wage. Yes, that ruby-red West Virginia!

A thriving economy is not built off well-fed Harrisburg lawmakers. It's built on the backs of an upwardly mobile working class. Increasing the minimum wage — alongside investments in education, infrastructure and public health — would help do just that.