Pa., raise the minimum wage
As we mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's declaration of war on poverty, neighboring states such as New York and Ohio have taken the necessary steps to lead their citizens out of poverty by increasing the minimum wage. On the federal level, President Obama has issued an executive order to increase wages for businesses with new or renewed federal contracts to $10.10 in 2015.
Now it's Pennsylvania's turn. The commonwealth must rise to the challenge to lead 1.8 million Pennsylvanians out of poverty and down the pathway of financial independence by raising our state's minimum wage.
Several measures have been introduced in the General Assembly. I support increasing the minimum wage for our struggling families from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10. This modest increase would boost the yearly earnings of a full-time worker by more than $5,900 to $21,008.
Contrary to what critics of an increase say, minimum-wage jobs are not just filled by part-time high school students and college undergrads. Adult women, 514,000 Pennsylvania women to be exact, account for two-thirds of workers earning barely enough to support their families. Furthermore, senior citizens paying for housing, prescriptions, and food also struggle to afford these basic necessities while working low-paying jobs.
Every day, constituents walk into my district office searching for a part- or full-time position that will allow them to provide for their families. They are mothers and fathers who don't want to rely on government assistance to survive, but they can barely afford to buy food or school supplies, and have trouble keeping up with housing and day-care expenses.
More than a dozen states increased their minimum wage on Jan. 1, and 21 states now have a minimum wage above the federal rate of $7.25. The last increase in Pennsylvania was in 2006.
Since that last raise, the cost of everyday necessities like milk and gas has increased while the nation has recovered from the recession. In Philadelphia, it takes more than 134 hours of work at the minimum wage to pay average rent and utilities alone. Adjusted for inflation, today's minimum-wage earners make about a third less than they did in 1968.
Increasing the minimum wage would mean a single mother with two children who works 40 hours per week would no longer be forced to live in poverty. An increase would mean that a father working 40 hours a week could send his children to school with breakfast in their stomachs. More low-income individuals could move from public assistance to self-sufficient living.
Pennsylvania has created multiple avenues for economic development for small businesses and major corporations; we must now support economic growth for the families who are the backbone of our economy and keep our businesses thriving. We must rise to the occasion and enact bipartisan legislation that will increase the minimum wage.
We can pave the way for the road out of poverty, and help Pennsylvanians head toward self-sufficiency and financial independence.
Cherelle L. Parker is the chairwoman of the Philadelphia delegation in the state House; a Democrat, she represents the 200th Legislative District.