By John Finnerty
Democratic legislators are lining up with their party’s candidates for governor in support of hiking the state’s minimum wage, now $7.25 per hour.
That would increase to $9 per hour almost immediately under a bill filed by Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, then rise again to $10.10 per hour 15 months later. Cohen’s legislation ties automatic increases in the minimum wage to inflation.
Pennsylvania last raised the minimum wage in 1996, and it now mirrors the national rate of $7.25 per hour. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia set minimum wages higher than the national rate, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Those include New Jersey ($8.25 per hour); New York ($8 per hour) and Ohio ($7.95 per hour.)
Gov. Tom Corbett has indicated he doesn’t think the minimum wage should increase for fear it could slow the state’s economic recovery. “Traditionally, Pennsylvania has followed the national minimum wage,” Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said.
But the leading Democratic candidates seeking to challenge Corbett’s reelection support an increase.
Rep. Allyson Schwartz is co-sponsor of a bill in Congress to increase the national minimum wage. If that doesn’t get traction, Schwartz would like to see Pennsylvania hike its minimum wage, her campaign spokesman, Mark Bergman, said Wednesday.
State Treasurer Rob McCord, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Corbett, supports raising the minimum wage, campaign spokesman Mark Nevins said.
Former Secretary of Environmental Protection Katie McGinty has been calling for a minimum wage hike since last fall.
Former Secretary of Revenue Tom Wolf said Wednesday that some reports suggest that raising the minimum wage can help the economy by putting money in workers’ pockets. Raising the base pay, he added, would just be the right thing to do.
“If you are working 40 hours a week,” he said, “you ought to be able to make enough to buy groceries without food stamps.”
A person working full-time at $7.25 per hour makes a little more than $1,160 per month, well within the allowable limits to qualify for food stamps in Pennsylvania.
Most research suggests that hiking the minimum wage forces some people out of work, though a few studies show that raising the minimum wage doesn’t translate into lost jobs, said Matthew Rousu, an economics professor at Susquehanna University.
A study released Wednesday by the conservative-leaning Employment Policies Institute estimated that increasing the federal minimum wage could prompt businesses to shed 1 million jobs. The organization bought a full-page ad in the New York Times with the tag line: “The best weapon in the war on poverty is a job.”
The researchers estimated that just 13 percent of workers who would see pay raises from an increase in the federal minimum wage live in poor families.
Rousu said increasing the minimum wage only helps the economy if companies don’t cut positions to absorb added costs. But businesses will have to find ways to save money, he said, by cutting jobs or passing the cost to customers.
“The money doesn’t come out of thin air,” Rousu said.
John Finnerty reports from the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.