At Christmas, Wolf, allies call on Legislature to hike minimum wage

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JANUARY 15: Demonstrators participate in a protest outside of McDonald's corporate headquarters on January 15, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The protest was part of a nationwide effort calling for minimum wage to be raised to $15-per-hour. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

by John L. Micek, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
December 23, 2021

(A scheduling note: This newsletter will be off until 1/3/2022 for a holiday break. From all of us at the Capital-Star, our best wishes for a happy holiday and peaceful New Year.)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With more than two-dozen states set to hike their minimum wage in 2022, the Democratic Wolf administration is urging the Republican-controlled General Assembly to follow suit when it returns to session in January.

“Pennsylvania’s food service, retail and social services workers have deserved a minimum wage hike for many years, but today the need is even more urgent. Millions of Pennsylvanians – many of them the frontline workers we called heroes in the early days of the pandemic – are struggling to support their families on hourly wages under $15,” Gov. ​Tom Wolf said in a statement his office released on Wednesday. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the global economy, and we see that reflected in a very reasonable reluctance of workers to take low-wage jobs in the midst of rising inflation.”

Pennsylvania’s current wage of $7.25, which is tied to the federal minimum wage, hasn’t been raised for more than a decade, despite repeated calls by Wolf and his Democratic allies in the General Assembly. In the meantime, all six of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have higher minimum wages, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute.

The wages in five of the six border states, except for West Virginia ($8.75/hr.), are all set to rise in the New Year, according to the EPI and administration data:

  • Delaware: $9.25/hr. to $10.50/hr., 1/1/22
  • Maryland: $11.75/hr. to $12.50/hr., 1/1/22
  • New Jersey: $12/hr to $13/hr., 1/1/22
  • New York: $12.50/hr, with index raise, to $13.20
  • Ohio: $8.80/hr., with index raise starting 1/1/22

In his statement, Wolf argued that the state’s current wage is a deterrent to working families with “young children [who] literally cannot afford to work these jobs if the cost of child care eclipses their paycheck. I’m urging the General Assembly to pass legislation that increases Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $12 an hour and creates a pathway to $15.”

Wolf called on Republican leaders in the state House and Senate to act on companion bills sponsored by Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, that would raise the wage to $12/hr. right away and eventually to $15/hr. Both bills also scrap the tipped wage for service workers.

On the GOP side of the aisle, Sens. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, and Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, have proposed raising the wage to $10/hr. and tying future increases to inflation, the Capital-Star reported in August.

Most Americans — 62 percent, according to the Pew Research Center — agree the minimum wage should be higher, the Capital-Star previously reported. But the question of how much employers should be required to pay is contentious.

Republicans and their allies in the business community have argued that a $15/hr. wage is too high. For some lawmakers, such as Laughlin, tying future hikes to inflation is non-negotiable.

Others, meanwhile, are searching for a middle ground.

Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, is the only Democratic sponsor of Laughlin’s bill and is also a sponsor of Tartaglione’s bill.

Haywood told the Capital-Star that he chose to throw his support behind both because each is a “step along the way” to bring Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“A failure to pay a decent minimum wage is immoral,” Haywood said at the time.

In a statement, Tartaglione also said a wage hike is long overdue.

“Our Legislature has failed to raise the minimum wage and provide a livable wage to our lowest earners,” she said. “This inaction is not just a failure in policy, but a failure in humanity and decency. Pennsylvanians deserve a living wage. We need to join the 25 states that will raise their minimum wage in 2022 and provide a livable wage to our commonwealth.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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