It's been almost seven years since Pennsylvania's minimum wage was boosted above the federal minimum - and those of us who were around then remember what a long battle that was.
Now, at $7.15 per hour, the state minimum wage is lower than the federal minimum.
Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione, recently re-appointed as Democratic chair of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, says she planning to use her position to push for a new hike to help struggling families.
In 2006 the state legislature passed a minimum wage adjustment bumping it up in increments from $5.15 to its current rate, which is ten cents below the current federal minimum. (All Pennsylvania employers must pay the federal minimum.)
“Obviously it takes more than public support, it takes a great deal of communication with colleagues and a concerted effort by all of those who believe in fair wages,” she said. “We’ve done it before and we will do it again.”
In the most recent Senate session, Tartaglione introduced a bill that would have tied the state’s minimum wage to inflation, as ten other states have done.
“Everyone knows that the public overwhelmingly supports fair wages,” she said. “In the states where minimum wage calculators were put before voters – even red states – they were approved overwhelmingly. It’s just a matter a getting past the special interests.”
And by that Tartaglione means business lobby, which fought the last minimum increase tooth and nail, saying it would drive small businesses under.
We hasten to add, when asked in the months and even beyond the passage of the minimum wage bill business group leaders were unable to produce evidence of any small businesses failing because of the minimum wage hike.
Tartaglione says the wage hike helped lower poverty rates temporarily in Pennsylvania ahead of the recession, but said incomes are no longer keeping up with inflation.
“Paying minimum wages that don’t keep pace with inflation puts more burden on government services, like food stamps and child care,” Tartaglione said. “Putting and inflation index on our minimum wage would decrease that burden and create a predictable base for employers.”
In all, ten states raised their minimum wages last year. Oregon and Washington state now have the highest minimum wages at $9.19 per hour.
New Jersey's General Assembly approved a wage bill last month that would would boost the minimum from $7.25 to $8.50, but Gov. Christie has yet to act on it.
Pennsylvania is one of 30 states that pay the required federal minimum.
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