The COVID-19 pandemic is proof that we need to pay Pennsylvanians a living wage | Opinion

A coalition of progressive advocacy groups rallies on the Pa. Capitol steps to call for better funding for public schools, a higher minimum wage, and other items in the 2019 state budget. (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

By Kevin Boyle

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought our nation’s economy to a grinding halt and caused cities to close schools and businesses of all sizes. The economic impact will be substantial and the depth of hardship for countless Americans may not fully be grasped for some time.

For the millions of Americans working jobs in service, healthcare, retail, construction, and other hourly wage positions, missing days or weeks of work is simply untenable.

For too many people, missing a paycheck makes it impossible to keep food on the table or a roof over their head. Though we are all shouldering some burden to keep each other safe, at the end of the day too many people are struggling to grasp what life looks like on the other side of this crisis.

So, how do we lift Pennsylvanians out of poverty as we face these unprecedented times? We must ensure a living wage for all Pennsylvanians; and we must allow for individual municipalities to use common sense measures to meet the unique cost of living expenses of their area.

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Our state minimum wage – stuck at $7.25 per hour for more than a decade – has proven time and again to be wholly inadequate.

According to the Living Wage Calculator from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a living wage in some areas of the state could be over $20 or even $30 an hour. Though one size does not fit all, Labor Secretary Gerard Oleksiak said just last month “increasing it to $12 would benefit 2 million Pennsylvanians.”

Across the Commonwealth we are seeing strong and effective responses from local townships and municipalities who are closest to the problems.

Local officials have coordinated on closing schools, suspending sheriff sales, enacting moratoriums on evictions, utility shutoffs due to non-payment, and more. While federal and state governments have been on different pages, local governments have taken initiative and been proactive in their response.

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Local officials know their municipalities. They know their constituents. They live in the community and interact with neighbors daily.

In order to effectively govern, you have to know its people and what they really need. As much as we interact with our constituents regularly on the state level, the needs of communities across the Commonwealth differ, and each community deserves to meet the needs of their citizens accordingly.

If we want to improve the lives of all Pennsylvanians, we must allow local governments to meet the needs of their constituents and provide a living wage that reflects the needs of their unique community.

As we have seen from the rapid spread of COVID-19, there is no replacement for local understanding of the challenges that we face. In order to best serve our unique communities, I call on my colleagues to join me in creating the freedom for each municipality to self-determine its minimum wage needs.

State Rep. Kevin Boyle is the ranking Democrat on the House State Government Committee. He represents the 172nd House District serving Philadelphia and part of Montgomery County.