A significant portion of Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget will be a non-starter for Republicans, but one aspect of the governor’s $33 billion spending plan we can get behind is an increase to the state’s minimum wage.
It’s time for Pennsylvania to buck its long-standing pattern of rivaling the federal minimum wage — which it has routinely done for years — and increase the $7.25 rate to something more competitive and fair for Pennsylvania workers.
At the beginning of 2018, several states raised their minimum wage, dropping Pennsylvania into the bottom third of states’ rates nationally. More than 30 states and about two dozen cities have a higher wage than Pennsylvania’s current rate.
Every state that touches Pennsylvania has a higher minimum wage than the commonwealth: New York’s is currently $10.40 heading to $12.50 by 2020; New Jersey is $8.60; West Virginia is $8.75; Delaware is $8.25; Ohio is $8.30 and Maryland is $9.25 with a jump to $10.10 on July 1.
Pennsylvania has been stuck on $7.25 since 2009, same as the federal wage.
In 2016, when Gov. Wolf inked an executive order ensuring that government employees would make no less than $10.15 an hour, he said this: “An increase in the minimum wage will lead to increases in employee morale, productivity, and the quality of work and decreases in turnover and the cost of training and supervision.”
It still rings true today.
Businesses have already moved on. Weis Markets, Geisinger, Walmart and more have increased their starting wages above the state minimum because it is the right thing to do.
Pennsylvania doesn’t need to leapfrog from its current level to $15, but lawmakers should implement a graduated scale over the next few years. Push the rate to $8.75 next year, then to $10.25 and finally to $12 in 2021, and then institute a mandatory cost of living increase following that incremental increase. The state has done it once before. Between 2006 and 2009, increasing $5.15 to $7.15 in a two-year window.
If the commonwealth would have built cost of living increases into the minimum wage decades ago it would likely be near that $12 level now, if not higher. The time has come to follow the lead of other states and increase Pennsylvania’s wage in a fair and meaningful way.