By Frances Wolf
A staggering 1.2 million working women in our commonwealth are earning less than $15 per hour. Many are mothers struggling to put food on their tables and roofs over the heads of their families. They weigh taking on second, third and fourth jobs against the cost of childcare and rarely seeing their children.
Pennsylvania’s women already suffer from a gender wage gap where they make only 80 cents on the dollar of their male counterparts make – a gap that costs women an average of $10,000 per year.
A woman’s ability to independently provide for her family is an issue that is personal to me and to my husband, Gov. Tom Wolf. We have seen firsthand the struggles women face as they work – sometimes twice as hard as their male counterparts – to make ends meet and achieve their career and personal goals.
That’s why we are actively working to increase the minimum wage and eliminate the gender wage gap in the commonwealth. In his first term as governor, Tom signed executive orders to address the gender pay gap for executive branch employees in Pennsylvania state government and to increase the minimum wage for those same employees to $15 an hour by the year 2024.
And he has continually called on the Pennsylvania legislature to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage immediately to $12 per hour and incrementally to $15 per hour by 2025. This proposal has been introduced by Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, as SB12, and by and Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, as HB1215.
This proposal would go a long way toward leveling the playing field and creating economic opportunity for working women.
A $15 minimum wage would boost wages for 2 million low-wage workers, of which 61 percent are women. It would help lift these hardworking Pennsylvanians out of poverty, eliminate their need for government assistance, and give them and their children the opportunity at a brighter future.
And importantly, raising the minimum wage would give mothers the opportunity to spend more time with their children by making the cost of living affordable with one job and eliminating the need to work multiple jobs to provide for their families. This would have long-term, positive effects on our next generation.
As if it’s not enough to raise our minimum wage to do the right thing for working, low-income families, raising the wage to $15 an hour would also inject $9.5 billion into our economy.
We have already fallen behind the majority of states in the country, including all of our neighboring states, who have done the right thing and raised the minimum wage. Yet Pennsylvania remains stuck at $7.25 an hour – the lowest allowed under federal law. This is an embarrassment and it is not who we are as Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvania is historically a place that welcomes, supports and lifts up our most vulnerable populations. It’s past time we do this by raising the minimum wage.
Frances Wolf is the First Lady of Pennsylvania. She writes from Harrisburg.