Commentary: Republicans in Pa. Legislature continue to block hike in minimum wage
By John Dodds - October 31, 2016
AS THE 2015-16 legislative session in Harrisburg comes to a close, a very visible issue is being swept under the carpet for another year by the Republican leadership.
Twenty-nine states, including every state surrounding Pennsylvania, have raised their minimum wages. Only Pennsylvania and New Hampshire in the Northeast continue to set the minimum wage at $7.25. Across the nation, a movement for $15 has led to many massive increases in wages for low-wage workers in cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco and in states such as California, New York, Massachusetts and Washington.
But in the Pennsylvania Legislature, the Republican leadership makes sure the issue never comes out of committee. It is over 10 years since the Pennsylvania Legislature last voted on the issue of the minimum wage. This is despite recent polling that shows that that 74 percent of Pennsylvanians support at least a $10.10 minimum wage and 62 percent support a $15-per-hour minimum wage. The leadership knows that if a bill were to come to the floor, it would pass, because of the overwhelming public support for the issue. Thus, lawmakers blockade it in committee for the duration.
Stagnant wages remain a major issue in the state and the nation. That has been a major driver for the outsider candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump during the current presidential election. Wages for the bottom 70 percent of the nation's work force have been stagnant for over 35 years, as unions have been in decline, and the manufacturing base has been moved overseas.
Over 2 million Pennsylvania workers would get a raise if the minimum wage went to $15. About 1.3 million would benefit from even a raise to $10.10, for which Gov. Wolf and many Democratic legislators have been advocating. About 500,000 people with children would get a raise with a $15 minimum wage in Pennsylvania, and 63 percent of those benefiting would be full-time workers. Ninety-two percent would be over age 20.
Such an increase would put billions of dollars of new wages into the state's economy also, helping to stimulate economic growth through consumer spending.
How long can low-wage workers remain without a helping hand from the Legislature? That is a question that needs to be considered as people go to the polls in November. The Republican majority in Harrisburg seems unable to find a way to increase the state minimum wage by any amount. With so many workers struggling to make ends meet, a fair minimum wage is the least that they should do for people in our state.
John Dodds is coordinator, Raise the Wage PA Coalition, and director, Philadelphia Unemployment Project.