It’s time for Pa. to raise its minimum wage, and lift so many out of poverty | Opinion

July 31, 2019 6:30 am

By Andrea L. Custis

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has remained unchanged for 10 years. Since 2009, it has been sitting at $7.25 per hour.

Before taxes are taken out, that equates to $58 per day, or $290 per week, or $1,160 per month. It is time for that to change. Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf called again for the wage to be bumped up to $12 per hour startinging in July then gradually increased 50 cents each year until it has reached $15 in 2025.

I applaud the governor’s efforts on this issue. It is a problem that desperately needs solutions. More than half the states in the country have a minimum wage higher than Pennsylvania’s, including all of the neighboring states.

For cities like Philadelphia, where the poverty rate has remained steady at approximately 26 percent for several years now, it is necessary. We don’t have the option to put it off anymore.

The Keystone Research Center estimates that a minimum wage hike would provide a raise to more than 253,000 Philadelphians. While that only equates to about 15 percent of the city’s population, it is a significant step in the right direction. In Allegheny County, the second-most populous after Philadelphia, more than 216,000 residents would receive a raise. That is almost 18 percent of their population.

As the president & CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia, I think often about how our city’s residents are faring economically, especially in the minority communities.

These communities make up the majority of the population, so it seems only appropriate to consider their position on the economic spectrum.

Here is some information about where we stand, according to the United States Census Bureau:

  • After hitting a high of 33.5 percent in 2011, poverty rates for blacks in Philadelphia are down to the lowest they’ve been in years at 27.1 percent. Hispanic poverty rates are down from their 2013 high of 44 percent to 38.2 percent. While both these numbers are above the overall citywide rate, things are trending in the right direction.
  • From 2016 to 2017, Philadelphia was the only large city that saw a drop in median household income, with a decrease of four percent
  • Deep poverty rates, after remaining static at approximately 12 percent, increased to 14 percent – higher than the post-recession rate of 13.5 percent

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill into law that will create an incremental increase of the minimum wage for city contractors and subcontractors from its current $12.20 rate to $15 per hour by 2022.

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This legislation will affect scores of workers at city social service agencies, such as after-school aides and custodial staff.

When you look at the above bullet points, especially the last two, it’s hard to argue that change is not needed.

Philadelphians should not be seeing increases in deep poverty and decreases in household income. Providing a living wage – a $15 minimum per hour – has the potential to immediately change thousands of lives for the better.

According to Wolf administration estimates, an increase to just $12 per hour could see 17,000 adults leave Medicaid and three times that amount the following year. Wage increases could allow thousands to transition off of public assistance, which could save Pennsylvania taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

The time has come to put an end to stagnant wages in Pennsylvania. The time has come for a living wage.

Andrea. L. Custis is president and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia. Her work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. 

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