Pennsylvania should start moving towards a higher minimum wage
Arguments against increasing the minimum wage are almost as stagnant as the wages of Pennsylvania workers.
According to perennial opponents of providing workers with decent pay, doing so would be against their own interests. A higher minimum wage, they contend, would convince companies to hire fewer low-wage workers, making it counter-productive.
Except the prediction rarely plays out that way.
It didn't happen in Pennsylvania in 2007, when the state government increased the minimum wage to $6.25 an hour, $1.10 an hour higher than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. It hasn't happened in the 10 states that now have minimum wages higher than Pennsylvania's $7.25 an hour, which also is the federal minimum.
In neighboring New Jersey, voters ignored the doom sayers in the most recent election, by voting to increase the minimum wage by $1 an hour beginning Jan. 1. Even more significantly, they decided to tie future increases automatically to the inflation rate.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 87,000 Pennsylvanians are paid the minimum wage. For someone working 40 hours a week, that is an annual salary of $15,080, which virtually ensures enrollment in publicly funded safety net programs that, in effect, require taxpayers to supplement dismally low wages. For a family of three in Pennsylvania, the poverty line is about $19,000 a year; the average two-bedroom apartment monthly rent in the state is about $895.
But, say the critics, most minimum-wage workers aren't full-time - thus defeating their own argument that an increase will bring businesses to their knees, dry up employment opportunities for low-wage workers, or both.
State Rep. Patty Kim, a Harrisburg-area Democrat, has introduced a bill to increase the minimum wage to $9 next year and to $10.10 the following year.
It's not going anywhere this year, however, since Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican leaders of both house majorities do not favor a minimum wage increase.
Several Democratic gubernatorial candidates have endorsed a higher minimum wage, as have many Democratic state legislators, signaling that the issue will be, as it should be, a major issue in next year's gubernatorial and legislative elections. GOP candidates who stand firmly against fairer wages should take note that, across the Delaware River, New Jersey voters approved the increase by 20 percentage points.