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Op-Ed: Give Pennsylvania Workers the Wages They Deserve

on June 26, 2019 10:52 AM

By Dan Long, Robin Moussa, Mary Bellman, and Rev. Jes Kast

We are members of a diverse coalition of low-wage workers, labor unionists, students, faith-based leaders and concerned residents. On June 17, we marched to State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s office in Bellefonte with a simple demand: raise the minimum wage! 

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 (and $2.83 for tipped workers) for 12 years, even as all of our neighboring states have raised theirs. Last Monday, Corman and his colleagues squandered yet another golden opportunity to guarantee a living wage to all working people in Pennsylvania. They announced a $34 billion state budget deal without a highly anticipated minimum wage hike.

We are disappointed, but not demoralized. As legislators leave for their 10-week summer vacations, we will continue to fight for the thousands of Centre County workers and families whose life chances are threatened by low wages and high rent. We will redouble our efforts to make state officials heed the voices of the working people of Pennsylvania.

We call on Corman and his colleagues to support HB1215 and SB12, which would raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour immediately and increase it to $15 per hour by 2025. Here in Corman’s home district (Centre County, Juniata County, Mifflin County, and parts of Huntingdon County), this would benefit a full 42% of the workforce.

Not surprisingly, raising the wage enjoys widespread support—a recent poll found that nearly 70% of Pennsylvanians favor a $12 per hour minimum wage. Nonetheless, corporate lobbyists continue to propagate myths about the dangers of raising the minimum wage. Below, we set the record straight, drawing on findings from the Keystone Research Center.

  1. Myth: raising the minimum wage hurts small businesses. There are many sensible policies for supporting small businesses. Paying poverty wages is not one of them. When firms don’t pay workers enough to cover their basic necessities, the burden is passed along to taxpayers, who subsidize low wages through food aid, housing aid, and heating assistance. When businesses pay living wages, in contrast, workers spend more money in their own neighborhoods, which circulates through communities and revitalizes local economies.

  2. Myth: business owners don’t want to raise the wage. National polling data suggests business executives overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage. Many would like to pay higher wages in order to increase employee retention and motivation, but cannot afford to do so under the current system, lest they be undercut by their competition. The only way to stop this “race to the bottom” is to raise the income floor. 

  3. Myth: raising the minimum wage kills jobs. All of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have increased the minimum wage, and none have seen negative impacts on job growth—not even in the most affected sectors such as food services. To the contrary, job growth in food services in these states outpaces that of Pennsylvania.  

  4. Myth: raising the minimum wage mainly benefits teenagers. In Centre County, 84% of workers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase to $15 are over the age of 19, and 26% are over the age of 40. Of course, some teenagers would benefit too, but many of them use their jobs to support their families. In Centre County, teenagers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase bring home on average 62% of their family’s income. 

  5. Myth: the benefits of minimum wage increases are offset by price increases. Raising the wage to $15 per hour would result in about $6.5 billion in pay raises for over 2 million Pennsylvania workers. The price of a quart of milk and other consumer goods might also rise by a few cents, but wage gains would far outpace inflation, generating higher buying power overall. This in turn, would lead to more vibrant local economies and healthier communities.

We believe all work has dignity and that all workers should be able to afford basic necessities and support their families. No one can live on $7.25 per hour in 2019, and working Pennsylvanians deserve better.

Dan Long is a member of The Seven Mountains Central Labor Council and President of Local 13000, Unit 31 of the Communication Workers of America. Robin Moussa is an activist with The Centre County Wage Justice Coalition. Mary Bellman is Director of The Labor School and Associate Teaching Professor in Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State. Reverend Jes Kast is the pastor at the Faith United Church of Christ in State College.

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