Governor Tom Wolf is on a mission to raise the pay rate for Pennsylvania workers, calling attention to a minimum wage that has remained stagnant for 11 years as of Friday.
Since July 24, 2009, the commonwealth’s wage floor has sat at $7.25 per hour, the result of an increase by the federal government. Wolf has called on the General Assembly to raise the minimum wage, highlighting the dire circumstances faced by those struggling to get by in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially essential and front-line workers.
"Today is a sad reminder that across the state many workers are on the job and earning poverty wages because Pennsylvania hasn’t raised the minimum wage in over a decade," Wolf said. "Many of them are essential workers, who throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have gone to work and put themselves at risk to provide the services all of us rely on."
According to the governor, 29 states – including all of the commonwealth’s neighboring states – have all went above and beyond the federal minimum wage since it was updated over a decade ago, leaving Pennsylvanians to earn far less for performing the same very same jobs as workers in surrounding states.
"It’s ridiculous that a Pennsylvanian earns less for the same job than someone in West Virginia, Ohio or New York," Wolf said. "Pennsylvanians are known for our tremendous work ethic, but too many of them, especially our essential workers, can’t afford their basic needs. That must be unacceptable to all of us."
Wolf’s call to action is just the latest in a long line of requests to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage. Just this past January, the governor called for a bump to $12 per hour, with a pathway eventually leading to $15 per hour. The plan, which Wolf said would have benefited about one million workers, failed to come to fruition.
In April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that service occupations had the highest percentage of hourly paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage, sitting at 6%. The Quarterly Census for Employment and Wages noted that 18.2% of Monroe County’s workforce fell under accommodation and food service occupations in 2019.
Rep. Maureen Madden (D-115) adamantly sounded off on the stagnant minimum wage, going so far as to say that the General Assembly has failed to take any effective action to rectify the issue.
"It’s disgraceful, and the bill that the Senate passed that gets us to $9.50 in I think two years, is disgraceful," Madden said. "The only thing more disgraceful than that is that the House won’t even take up the $9.50 an hour."
According to Madden, the job market in Pennsylvania – and across the country, for that matter – has changed significantly over the years, and many positions that used to be relegated to teenagers have drawn more adult employees with families to support.
Job losses during the COVID-19 may only add to the issue, with many workers struggling to find any position to make ends meet.
Madden argued that the only way to make the matter right is for both political parties to come together and hash out a deal that will yield an increase for Pennsylvania workers.
"I think it’s absolutely disgraceful that the Republicans will not bring a realistic minimum wage increase bill up for a vote, and Gov. Wolf is exactly right – we need to cut through all the BS, and we should go right to $12 an hour, and then a dollar a year, every year, until we’re at $15," Madden said.
Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-189) stated that she is willing to discuss a potential minimum wage increase, though the current economic climate could prove problematic in the mission to enact such a measure.
"I have always been open to a discussion on a minimum wage adjustment, but believe it needs to be done carefully and incrementally with employees, small businesses and job creators at the table to ensure balance and fairness," Brown said. "That said, with the shutdown of so many businesses and lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges of achieving an increase are greatly increased."
Calls to Sen. Mario Scavello (R-40) regarding Wolf’s suggested minimum wage increase were not returned in time for publication.
Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of Wolf’s hazard pay plan, announced last week, which has earmarked $50 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funded grants meant to benefit essential and front-line workers with temporary wage increases.
Representatives from Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network have confirmed that they are exploring the hazard pay grant program.
Grant funding may be used for hazard pay for direct, full-time and part-time employees earning under $20 per hour, excluding fringe benefits and overtime between Aug. 16 and Oct. 24, 2020. Applicants are able to apply for up to $1,200 per eligible full-time employee, and employers may apply for a grant to provide hazard pay for us to 500 eligible full-time employees per location.
Eligible applicants may apply for grants online using the DCED Electronic Single Application for Assistance up until July 31, 2020.
Wolf has stressed that even with the hazard pay bump, an official increase to the commonwealth’s minimum wage is an absolute necessity to ensure that Pennsylvanians can make due. As to if, how, and when the General Assembly will agree on a path to get there is yet to be determined.
"Eleven years is far too long for hardworking people – no matter the age – to struggle with low wages," Wolf said. "Now more than ever, it’s time for the General Assembly to listen. It’s time to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage."