As the 2015-16 legislative session in Harrisburg comes to a close, a very visible issue is being swept under the carpet for another year by the Republican leadership.
Twenty-nine states, including every state surrounding Pennsylvania, have raised their minimum wages. Only Pennsylvania and New Hampshire in the Northeast continue to set the minimum wage at $7.25.
Across the nation a movement for $15 has led to many massive increases in wages for low-wage workers in cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco and states such as California, New York, Massachusetts and Washington.
In the Pennsylvania legislature, the Republican leadership makes sure the issue never comes out of committee. It is more than 10 years since the last time the state legislature voted on the issue of minimum wage. This is despite recent polling that shows that 74 percent of Pennsylvanians support at least a $10.10 minimum wage and 62 percent support a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
The leadership knows if a bill comes to the floor it would pass, due to the overwhelming public support for the issue. Thus, blockade it in committee for the duration.
Stagnant wages remain a major issue in the state and the nation. That has been a major driver for the outsider candidacies of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Donald Trump during the current elections. Wages for the bottom 70 percent of the nation’s workforce have been stagnant for more than 35 years, as unions have been in decline and the manufacturing base has been moved overseas.
More than 2 million Pennsylvania workers would get a raise if the minimum wage went to $15, and 1.3 million would benefit from even a raise to $10.10, for which Gov. Tom Wolf and many Democratic legislators have been advocating.
Five-hundred thousand people with children would get a raise with a $15 minimum wage in Pennsylvania and 63 percent of those benefiting would be full-time workers. Ninety-two percent would be older than 20 years of age.
Such an increase would put billions of dollars of new wages into the state’s economy also, helping to stimulate economic growth through consumer spending. How long can low wage workers remain without a helping hand from the PA legislature?
That is a question that needs to be considered as people go to the polls in November.
The Republican majority in Harrisburg seems unable to find a way to increase the state minimum wage in any amount. With so many workers struggling to make ends meet, a fair minimum wage is the least that they should do for people in our state.