State looks at minimum wage hike

March 7, 2019

Close to 1.75 million workers in the state make less than $15 an hour, according to a new report from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. The information prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to say that there is a dire need to raise the minimum wage.

“Pennsylvania continues to lag behind other states, including all our neighbors, in ensuring fair wages that keep up with the cost of living,” Wolf said in a news release. “This report confirms that too many Pennsylvanians are making poverty wages. We must act to ensure our workers stop falling behind. Our communities can no longer afford to have so many workers struggling just to get by and unable to be active members of local economies. The legislature must raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.”

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has been unchanged in the last decade at $7.25 per hour. The Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission indicates that the average per capita income for people who live in its measured region, which includes Somerset County, is around $23,672. With a 40-hour work week, that works out to about $11.38 an hour. A person who earns $15 an hour takes home a salary of $31,200.

Republican state Sen. Pat Stefano earlier this year said that if Pennsylvania is going to look at a minimum wage increase, it needs to be slow and deliberate. Wolf is proposing to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $12 per hour on July 1. The wage would grow by 50 cents annually until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025.

“You can’t just jump to $12 an hour — it will kill our small businesses,” Stefano said in February.

Stefano said the minimum wage is a great training wage for young people.

“You just eliminated all the young people,” he said. “If you are paying $12, $14 or $15 an hour, it will need to be skilled labor. It’s a really big concern.”

State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar couldn’t be reached for comment.

All of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have raised their minimum wage beyond the federal minimum. Some in the Somerset community have expressed a desire to raise the wage in the commonwealth.

“I support it,” Ann Landis, of Somerset, said in a Facebook comment on the newspaper’s page. “People who work need to make a living wage. There was a time when the man worked and the (woman) stayed home and raised the kids. That’s one of the problem with kids today.”

But support isn’t universal. Ron Aldom, executive director of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce, said it’s not sustainable for local businesses to raise payroll costs by nearly double what they are now.

“I don’t think anyone is against an increase, but a reasonable increase that people can survive with,” Aldom said. “Minimum wage was never meant to be a livable wage. It was meant to be a starting wage.”

Aldom also pointed out that other employees already making the proposed minimum wage would also have to have a higher salary if they increase it.

“What about the guy that makes $13 an hour?” Aldom said. “Is he going to be increased to $18? It will absolutely no question about it hurt businesses.”