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Pa. is surrounded by states that have raised the minimum wage, but it's still $7.25 here

Written by Joel Shannon/The York Daily Record | Jan 30, 2018 1:48 PM
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Every state surrounding Pennsylvania has opted to raise the minimum wage. (Photo: Sean Heisey, York Daily Record)

(York) -- As 2018 started, the lowest-earning workers in three states surrounding Pennsylvania got a raise. But they already earned more than their counterparts in Pennsylvania anyway.

Pennsylvania's minimum wage continues to be $7.25 per hour -- the federally-mandated minimum. But, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states neighboring Pennsylvania have opted to set a higher minimum.

They've raised the wage anywhere from $1 to $3.15 more than the federal level. For a full-time employee making the minimum wage, that can mean an annual income difference of $2,000 to $6,500. There's one possible exception: Ohio does allow some small businesses to pay workers at the federal minimum rate.

Most of Pennsylvania's neighbors also have a plan to continue raising their minimum wage. Currently, no such plan exists in Pa.

What's the holdup?

Last year Gov. Tom Wolf attempted to raise Pennsylvania's minimum -- by a lot. 

He proposed hiking it to $12, which would have been the highest in the nation.

Republicans balked. They cited neighboring states, none of which at the time had a minimum over $10 per hour.

"We think it would actually push a lot of folks off of payrolls and into the unemployment lines," said House Majority Leader David Reed in a February news conference. He said the Republicans' focus is on getting workers into higher paying jobs, rather than "artificially"' increasing wages. 

Reducing unemployment is more important, Republicans said at the conference. Currently, Pennsylvania's unemployment rate of 4.7% is one of the highest in the nation (although neighboring New Jersey and West Virginia, states that have raised the minimum wage, have even higher unemployment).

That's not to say all Republicans are opposed to raising the minimum wage. 

York County state senator and gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner has proposed raising the minimum to $8.75 an hour.

While Pennsylvania's minimum wage lags behind its neighbors, it's not alone nationally. Twenty-one other states have kept the federal minimum of $7.25, which hasn't changed since 2009.

New research

States across the nation are grappling with the minimum wage issue. A big part of the problem: Research on the subject often presents a conflicting picture of whether raising it actually works. 

In a January 2018 report, the Keystone Research Center attempted to study the minimum wage in the Pennsylvania region. Its findings took issue with a standard position among those who oppose raising the minimum wage:

If you raise the minimum wage, businesses won't be able to afford it and low-earning workers will lose their jobs.

Their report suggested there may be more going on.

KRC examined the food service industry -- known for employing large numbers of low-wage workers -- in Pennsylvania and neighboring states and found growth in several neighboring states outpacing Pennsylvania.

Especially notable -- New York, with the highest minimum wage of any of Pennsylvania's neighbors -- saw higher wages and employment in that sector than Pennsylvania, according to the report.

"A minimum wage increase in Pennsylvania is long overdue and would provide a critical boost to family incomes while making important progress towards reducing income inequality," the report concludes. 

But Republicans have questioned the findings of the group before. In 2011, a statement from the Republican Party of Pennsylvania labeled the group a "liberal 'think-tank' " and criticized their research methods.

What's next?

There are already rumblings about another push to increase Pennsylvania's minimum wage.

Democratic State Rep. Patty Kim has been making headlines on the subject, holding a public meeting and promising to introduce legislation to raise the minimum wage. In the past, she has suggested more than doubling the minimum to $15 per hour by 2024.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record

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