A new bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour is emerging in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Sponsored by Representative Patty Kim (D-Harrisburg), the bill as described in a memorandum appears similar to legislation Senator Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) is spearheading in his chamber. It contrasts with a more radical measure authored by Representative Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia) that would hike the wage floor to $16.50 in July 2025 and gradually increase it to $21 by mid-2028. The Rabb bill would also apply the state minimum wage to prisoners, vastly boosting their pay.
In her memo pushing for a $15 hourly floor, Kim (pictured above) lamented that the commonwealth last hiked its minimum wage to $7.25 in 2009. She cited data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicating that 30 states, including all of those that neighbor Pennsylvania, mandate higher wage minimums. Her $15 rate would take effect in January 2024 and would tie future minimum-wage rises to inflation.
“Too many people have worked too hard for too long to not be able to pay their bills,” Kim said at a House Majority Policy Committee hearing on the issue in late March. “We want to tag a cost-of-living adjustment on this, so we never have to wait years and years – or wait for a once-in-a-century pandemic – for this issue to have a bright light shined on it.”
While free-market advocates generally oppose minimum wage increases, some in Harrisburg expect Republicans like Laughlin who now champion a hike will insist that such a policy come as part of a broader deal that will include regulatory reform. Governor Josh Shapiro (D) has urged enactment of a new $15 floor and many Republicans have sensed an opportunity for dealmaking, particularly insofar as they control the state Senate.
Advocates of an increase often cite a Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Advisory Board report indicating that 63,800 individuals — less than two percent of the state’s workforce — earned $7.25 per hour or less in 2021. Nonetheless, wages have risen markedly over the last two years and many who continue to make so little are teenagers working one of their first jobs.
After House Democrats began clamoring for new pay mandates, the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation (CF) issued a backgrounder in March opposing the idea. CF cited calculations from the nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office suggesting that even raising the floor to $12 per hour would kill 5,000 jobs.
And the think tank fears the proposal could disadvantage even workers who keep their jobs insofar as employers may compensate for the new mandate by cutting worker hours and benefits. An example of this was observed nationally in 2018 after Amazon set its own low-end hourly wage to $15 but nevertheless suspended workers’ monthly bonuses and stock options.
Instead of raising the minimum wage, CF suggested, the commonwealth should focus on lowering impediments to employment by reforming licensing and permitting processes as well as improving public-assistance programs so they reward those who secure employment.
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Patty Kim” by Rep. Patty Kim. Background Photo “Pennsylvania Capitol” by Ad Meskens. CC BY-SA 3.0.