In Pennsylvania’s neighboring states, the new year began with modest but significant improvement for the millions of workers who earn the minimum wage or slightly more.
In West Virginia and Maryland the minimum wage jumped Jan. 1 by 75 cents to $8 an hour. In Ohio it rose by 15 cents to $8.10. In New Jersey it increased by 13 cents to $8.38. And in New York it jumped by 75 cents to $8.75. Delaware’s rate stayed unchanged at $7.75 an hour.
Lower than all those minimum wages is Pennsylvania’s, which is stuck at $7.25 — the same rate it’s been since 2009, the same rate as the federal minimum and now less than the minimum wages of 30 states. At 40 hours a week times 52 weeks, that’s $15,080 in a year’s pay — hardly enough to support one person, much less a family with children. Pennsylvania, and the nation, can do better.
Plenty of research has debunked the assertion by business lobbies and the politicians who answer to them that a higher minimum wage discourages hiring, especially of young people. Most studies find little or no effect, at fast-food restaurants or other workplaces, even when jobless rates have been high.
To the contrary, improving the buying power of low-wage workers stimulates consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy. That means more sales revenue for local businesses, a stronger local economy — and thus more jobs, not fewer.
Yet when wages stagnate, more workers enroll in federally funded safety-net programs, such as food stamps, because they can’t live on what they’re paid. Higher state and federal minimum wages would reduce that taxpayer subsidy. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank based in Washington, notes that the federal minimum is worth 23 percent less today than in the late 1960s.
Congress needs to stop delaying and raise the minimum wage in steps to the $10.10 proposed by President Barack Obama. And if Washington refuses, the Pennsylvania Legislature, with a hard kick from soon-to-be Gov. Tom Wolf, should make the state minimum at least keep up with the Joneses.