How Pa.’s failure to raise the minimum wage will make the housing affordability crisis even worse | John L. Micek

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Policy decisions, just like elections, have consequences. And the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s rejection of a higher minimum wage means that, for thousands of Pennsylvanians, paying the rent is about to get even harder.

The 30th annual “Out of Reach” report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition provides a stark reminder that, instead of getting better, America’s affordable housing crisis is getting worse.

If you’re earning the Pennsylvania minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, there is not a single state or county in the country where you’re making enough to rent a two-bedroom apartment. In only 28 of the nation’s counties is it possible for a worker making the $7.25 federal minimum wage to rent a one bedroom apartment, the report found, according to an analysis by CityLab.

The $34 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday that began making its way through the state House and Senate does not include Gov. Tom Wolf’s request to boost the state’s current minimum to $12 an hour by July, and then in increments to $15 an hour by 2025.

Republicans in the House declared the issue dead on arrival. And though the administration is holding out hope that the proposal might find its way into one of the myriad code bills that provide the instruction manual for spending general fund money, the odds seem remote.

That policy failure by House Republicans — and it’s their fault (Senate Republicans had said publicly they were open to a middle ground) — has real-world implications.

Statewide, a person working 40 hours a week needs to make $19.35 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental home without exceeding 30 percent of their income, the report found. It’s even worse in Philadelphia and its four suburban counties, where workers have to earn a range of $13.35 an hour (Bucks County) all the way up to $22.33 an hour (Philadelphia) to afford a two-bedroom rental, the report found.

In Dauphin County, home to Harrisburg, a worker would need to earn $16.45 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental, according to the report. In Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh, it’s $16.66 an hour.

Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition

“Across Pennsylvania, there is a shortage of rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income households (ELI), whose incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30 percent of their area median income,” according to the report. “Many of these households are severely cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing. Severely cost burdened poor households are more likely than other renters to sacrifice other necessities like healthy food and healthcare to pay the rent, and to experience unstable housing situations like evictions.”

Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition

“A single adult working full time at the minimum wage earns just over $15,000 per year – before taxes. That’s below the Federal Poverty Threshold. Pennsylvania should not be a place where someone working full time lives in poverty,” Pennsylvania Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller observed in a Capital-Star op-ed earlier this week.

To afford a typical, two-bedroom apartment in Allegheny County, a worker would need to earn $35,840 a year, the report indicated.

“It’s worth noting that while 42 states and cities have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25, not even the highest of $12 in Massachusetts, California, and Washington state, is enough,” CityLab’s Sarah Holder wrote recently. “The $15 minimum wage increases won by workers in cities like San Francisco and Washington D.C., and that are the goal of the nationwide Fight for $15 campaign won’t be enough, either.”

During floor debate on Tuesday, Turzai shut down any attempt to debate the minimum wage, saying it wasn’t germane to the conversation under House rules.

This new data is vivid reminder that the minimum wage is very germane to thousands of Pennsylvanians. And by failing to pass a wage hike, lawmakers have left them behind.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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