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Coalition fights to raise PA's minimum wage

Standing in the Capitol Rotunda on the eve of budget season, John Meyerson, spokesperson for Raise the Wage PA, called on legislators to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania this session. 

The coalition of community advocates, labor leaders and legislators hit the Capitol to continue to fight to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania. The coalition, of which AFT Pennsylvania is a member, argued that the $7.25 an hour minimum leaves working families with incomes below the poverty line.

Raise the Wage has held rallies and events across the state advocating for better pay for working people.

Speaking at a news conference May 31, Meyerson, community advocates, union leaders and Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) pushed for Pennsylvania to raise its minimum wage gradually from $7.25 an hour to $15 by 2024.

Gov. Tom Wolf supports raising the minimum wage.

At $7.25, the state’s base hourly pay rate matches the federal floor. Working a full time job, eight hours a day for 260 days a year, a person would make $15,080 -- about $1,400 below the federal poverty level for a family of two, and just $3,000 above the poverty level for an individual.

The wage was last raised by the state legislature in 2006, and gradually ratcheted up to $7.15 in 2007. It was increased the last ten cents when the federal minimum was increased in 2009.

Raising the wage has been Rep. Kim’s biggest issue in office. Since reaching the House in 2012, she’s introduced language to raise the wage every session.

This year, the bill is HB 1520. It would increase the wage to $12 an hour for 2018, then up to $15 an hour in 50-cent intervals by Jan. 1, 2024.

Kim and assorted attendees made the case that a raise was just, looking at the current poverty rate. Kim especially was adamant that given her $8 babysitting wage in the ‘80s, an increase was needed if only to keep up with inflation.

“It’s so important to have a cost of living adjustment so we’re not going back every ten years politicizing this, debating, fighting over this but just have it increase with inflation with every other cost,” Kim said.

Since 2009 — the last federally mandated increase in the commonwealth’s minimum wage — the Consumer Price Index has increased by 17.5 percent.

Currently, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is lower than any of its neighbors, a fact Wolf reiterated in a statement released Thursday supporting an increase.

“As corporations get massive tax breaks and executive pay continues to rise, workers at all levels have been left behind and too many Pennsylvanians are working full-time, often in multiple jobs, while barely making ends meet.” Gov. Tom Wolf said in the statement.

The Democratic push on the minimum wage is expected as part of a broader pro-labor policy ahead of the 2018 general election.

The Independent Fiscal Office reviewed the increase as part of its review of Wolf’s budget, giving it favorable marks.

The report, released in April, predicted one million people could see increased wages from the change, while 33,000 could lose their jobs. Just over half of those positions would be part-time.

Kim recognized that the scholarship on the topic can go either way, showing increased wages as well as job cuts. That concern is why her bill moves the needle gradually. She also expressed an openness to compromise, calling it the only way to achieve anything in Harrisburg.

In fact, according to Pennsylvania Legislative Services’ database, the 2006 wage hike was passed with bipartisan support, including the majority of both House and Senate Republicans.

But Kim seemed focused on getting her legislation, as-is, as far as she could — including to the governor’s desk.

“Whenever we have an open door, we’re going to bust through and make sure it passes,” Kim said.

Pennsylvania Legislative Services

May 31, 2018

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