Pennsylvania legislators should have raised the minimum wage to help people struggling to survive

| 05 Jul 2019 | 02:04

    Legislators seem to be passing up an opportunity to help millions of working people in our state by increasing the minimum wage as all of our neighboring states have done. It is truly disappointing that they have agreed on a $34 billion budget deal that ignores the real need of so many people in our commonwealth.
    There are indisputable signs that millions of people are being left out of the prosperity that surrounds us. More than a million people in Pennsylvania are classified as the working poor, unable to afford basic necessities such as food, transportation, child care and housing.
    That's because many must subsist on minimum wage jobs that barely keep families above poverty.
    The National Low Income Housing Coalition's 2019 report shows many Americans — including many in Pennsylvania — have serious problems finding decent, affordable housing.
    The coalition says a Pennsylvania resident would need to earn more than $13 an hour, the coalition says, to afford a modest, two-bedroom rental in our state. Imagine if your paycheck is half that. Imagine if you earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
    You would have to work 107 hours per week to be able to rent a decent, two-bedroom house in our area. The coalition's report says most minimum wage workers in our nation would have to work three full-time jobs to pay for decent housing for their families.
    The coalition's housing report is not the only indicator of a wage problem in Pennsylvania. The United Way of Pennsylvania just released its own research showing more than one million people are living just above the poverty line in our state, unable to pay for life's basic necessities, including food, transportation, child care and decent housing.
    They work every day, sometimes two or more jobs. But they just don't make enough to get ahead.
    The United Way was so alarmed at the number of working poor in our state that it has launched a project to educate the public about the problem and given it a name — Alice — to put try to humanize the statistics.
    Gov. Tom Wolf called for increasing the minimum wage in Pennsylvania to $12 an hour and eventually to $15. And First Lady Frances Wolf even penned an Op-Ed asking the state legislature to “do the right thing for working, low-income families" and especially for single, working mothers who have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
    She noted that 2 million workers, 61 percent of whom are women, work at low-wage jobs. The National Housing Coalition says these are workers who serve our communities daily — waiters and waitresses, medical assistants, janitors and child care workers. The United Way says they are our family, friends and neighbors.
    Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione and Rep. Patty Kim sponsored legislation to help working families by increasing the minimum wage, showing bi-partisan support for an idea whose time should have come.
    Many business owners even supported the legislation. While some raised concerns that raising the minimum wage could force them to hire fewer workers or push them out of business completely, that view was not shared by many of their colleagues.
    The Pennsylvania Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a coalition of business owners and executives, supported increasing the minimum wage, acknowledging it hasn't been raised since 2009. The organization said 61 percent of business owners with employees support increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10, and adjusting it each year for inflation.
    This is not just a Pennsylvania problem; the plight of the working poor is a national embarrassment. But Pennsylvania has the lowest minimum wage permitted under federal law. How does that make us feel?
    Most of our neighbors have already taken concrete steps to right this wrong. Minimum wage workers in New Jersey make $8.85 per hour; in Maryland they make $10.10 an hour, and in in New York, they make $11.10 an hour. And now, we've missed another chance to right this wrong.
    What will it take for Pennsylvania lawmakers to open both their hearts and their minds and throw a lifeline to families struggling to survive as business and investment profits soar?
    The income disparity that study after study has documented should no longer be ignored or tolerated. It's an issue that should unite both Republicans and Democrats.
    We urge Sen. Tartaglione, Rep. Kim and Governor Wolf to keep this matter before the legislature and not give up until Pennsylvania workers can be assured a minimum wage that will get them a bit closer to the American dream.
    Harrisburg Patriot News