Tuesday proved to be a frustrating and ultimately disappointing day as I watched the Pennsylvania House of Representatives vote down an opportunity to hold a debate on increasing the minimum wage, which still sits at a dismal $7.25 per hour (or $2.83 per hour for tipped workers).
Raising the minimum wage has been pushed to the forefront as a key legislative issue in Harrisburg this year, thanks to persistent activist organizing around the state, bi-partisan support for the issue and a legislature where many realize that 13 years is far too long to go without increasing our state minimum wage. Pennsylvanians have certainly seen our cost of living rise in those 13 years, but the minimum wage has remained stagnant. All across the state — in rural, small town and urban communities — the difference between everyday cost of living and what a low-wage worker earns continues to grow at an unmanageable pace.
Because of these efforts, reality has hit home.
The reality is that people cannot survive on $7.25 an hour. I have hope because the state seems close to a break-through on this point. We know that an increase in the minimum wage goes far beyond bringing a much-needed boost of revenue into our state budget — it means fewer people working full time and still living below the poverty line. It means better jobs where workers feel appreciated, have increased loyalty and have the ability to maintain a healthier work-life balance. It means food on the table and a chance at economic security for individuals and families.
We can no longer argue with facts. Study after study has found that raising the minimum wage simply makes good economic sense.
In every one of our neighboring states (all of which have increased the minimum wage) both wages and employment in the food service sector are growing faster than in Pennsylvania.
A higher minimum wage gives people more money to spend. When people are paid fairly and are able to not just survive, but to thrive, they spend their money locally. This results in more money staying in our local economies.
Raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour would boost the take home wages of 1.6 billion workers; if the wage continue to increase to $15 per hour, 2 million Pennsylvanians, nearly 34% of the state’s workforce would see a significant raise.
The Keystone Research Center, which has done extensive research on this topic, has found that increasing the minimum wage primarily and overwhelmingly impacts adults — 89% of those who would see a raise under the current legislative proposal (SB12/HB1215) are over the age of 20 and 37% of them are over the age of 40.
Studies show that “One Fair Wage” policies, which would bring the $2.83 tipped minimum wage up to the statewide minimum wage, have been shown to decrease workplace sexual harassment by 50%.
Employee loyalty isn’t only good for morale, research shows that it also saves money for business owners. Decreased turnover means that employers save money on new employee training and other costs associated with hiring.
Lastly, the minimum wage won’t double the price of pizza. Economists have found that any small increase (statistically between 0.9 to 2.7%) in food prices will be overshadowed by the increased buying power of local residents.
I believe in the importance of a good, local pizza shop and I’m happy to pay an additional 27 cents per pie if it means the workers serving it to me can afford to pay their rent and feed their families.
I am someone who has worked low-wage jobs, and I am also someone who has assisted in running a small business. Both of those experiences have taught me the importance of paying workers a fair wage.
We still have an opportunity to raise the wage this legislative session. We have an obligation to stand strong with workers. Pennsylvania needs a higher minimum wage, and the fight continues into the fall.
As our legislators return to their districts for the summer break, I urge you to call them. Convey your disappointment regarding this missed opportunity to raise the wage during the budget negotiations. Demand that they come back in the fall ready to fight for a higher minimum wage.
Let’s make 2019 the year we finally raise the wage.