Bill seeks increase in state’s minimum wage

Democratic State Representative Mark Cohen. -Photo/Office of State Representative Mark Cohen.

Progressive Democratic State Representative Mark Cohen, in the face of a recovering economy both within the state and throughout the nation, has authored legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.15 an hour to $9.

House Bill 1057 – an act that would amend the Minimum Wage Act of 1968, would raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour and provide subsequent annual cost-of-living increases indexed to the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers for the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland area, beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

“Beginning January 1, 2015, and each succeeding January 1 thereafter, the minimum wage shall be increased by an annual cost-of-living adjustment calculated by applying the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland area, for the most recent twelve-month period for which figures have been officially reported by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics sixty days prior to the date the adjustment is due to take effect, to the then current salary amounts if such rate of inflation is greater than zero percent,” read a portion of the amendment. “The percentage increase and the minimum wage amounts shall be determined by the secretary as herein prescribed and public notice given in the Pennsylvania Bulletin within ten days of the date such determination is made.”

According to Cohen, H.B. 1057 parallels President Barack Obama’s recent announcement calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $9. Eighteen states have passed minimum wage rates above the federal minimum of $7.25.

In fact, the White House has publicized President Barack Obama’s “Plan to Reward Work by Raising the Minimum Wage” platform, which calls on Congress to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 in stages by the end of 2015 and index it to inflation thereafter, which would directly boost wages for 15 million workers and reduce poverty and inequality.

While it appears a good idea to raise the minimum wage, the plan does have its detractors. When raising the state’s minimum wage became a hot-button issue several years ago, Florida State University Economics Scholar David A. Macphearson wrote that in the end, government interference will hurt the very people the raise was supposed to help.

“The economic reality that proponents of artificial and arbitrary increases in the minimum wage must face is that there are negative economic consequences to such government interference in the marketplace. Indeed, by attempting to help low-income individuals and families, proponents of such policies are actually hurting the very people they are hoping to help. That is the clear conclusion of decades of economic research on the topic, and it is also the finding of Dr. Macpherson’s analysis of a minimum wage increase proposal in Pennsylvania,” read a portion of that report. “When government artificially raises labor costs for employers, without the same ability to increase productivity or investment returns, the net impact is lost jobs, higher consumer prices, or both. In the end, many low-income individuals and families will have fewer opportunities to climb the economic ladder and will become victims, not beneficiaries, of such well-intentioned but economically flawed policies.

“Dr. Macpherson’s lesson for Pennsylvania policymakers is that it would be economic folly to artificially raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage,” the report continued. “Instead of destroying entry-level jobs and increasing the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania by raising the minimum wage, lawmakers should pursue alternative policies that expand rather than contract economic opportunities for low-income citizens.”

Cohen, a native Philadelphian who has been on the forefront of many wage battles, including the one that raised the state’s minimum wage to its current level, isn’t buying that argument. Instead, Cohen is more focused on his constituents that he sees every day.

“To think that a single mother could work a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job and fall nearly $5,000 below the poverty line is unconscionable,” Cohen said via a statement released by his office, “and should be morally unacceptable to most people in today’s society.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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