HARRISBURG, PA — July 24 marked one decade since Pennsylvania’s last minimum wage increase to $7.25 per hour—the lowest rate allowed by the federal government. Gov. Tom Wolf marked the anniversary by calling on the state legislature to raise the “embarrassingly low rate.”
“Waiting 10 years for a minimum wage increase is too long. The public overwhelmingly supports raising the wage and it’s time for Harrisburg to listen. The legislature must stand with workers and raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage,” Wolf said in a statement.
Wolf also noted that PA has been surpassed by all of it its neighboring states in minimum wage rates: currently $8.85 in New Jersey, $11.10 in New York State, $10.10 in Maryland, $8.55 in Ohio and $8.75 in both West Virginia and Delaware.
Wolf wants to raise minimum wage to $12 per hour and then raise it by 50 cents each year until reaching $15 per hour by 2025.
PA state senators are mostly split along party lines on the issue: Democrats tend to agree with Wolf about raising the current rate, while Republicans tend to argue that a raise—especially one more than doubling the current minimum wage to $15 per hour—would cost people jobs and hurt small businesses and the economy overall. The recently agreed upon budget for 2019-2020 left minimum wage untouched.
Lisa Baker, a Republican who represents Wayne County in the PA Senate, has not pushed the issue one way or the other, but in 2016 she did face protesters who felt her inaction on wage increases was hurting PA workers. Her response to those protesters suggested that she favors leaving the question of minimum wage to the private sector.
“Recently, some major private employers have moved on increasing wage levels, an indication that public pressure can make a difference,” she said. “For a lot of people, having employers make determinations based on their own economic circumstances and their need to attract and retain capable employees seems preferable to a broad and inflexible mandate from state government that would again make for winners and losers.”
Matt Cartwright, a Democrat and Wayne County’s new representative in the federal House of Representatives, has a record of support for increasing the minimum wage. In 2016, he co-sponsored a bill that would have raised the federal minimum wage to $10.10, and just last week voted in favor of a bill that would bring it to $15 by 2024.
That newer bill, Raise the Wage Act, passed in the House, something liberals nationwide have been celebrating as a major victory. But to go into effect, it still needs to make it through Senate, and high-profile Republicans are decidedly against its passage.
Pennsylvania’s two senators, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey, have long had opposing views on the issue and are likely to cast opposite votes on incoming legislation.
Toomey succinctly summed up his stance about federal interference with minimum wage in 2014. “The last thing the American people need is a bill coming out of Washington that would wipe out hundreds of thousands of their jobs,” he said. He maintains the same position today.
On the other side, Casey announced his co-sponsorship of Raise the Wage in February of this year. “For far too long working families have gotten the short end of the stick,” he said. “I urge leader McConnell to schedule a vote on this important legislation so that we can start on the path to an America that works for all individuals, not just the super-wealthy and special interests.”
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