As the arrival of a new class of vaccines against COVID-19 raises hope to overcome the pandemic, many states already have moved to stimulate economic activity by raising their minimum wage rates.
Pennsylvania, where legislative majorities recently have devoted their energy to disenfranchising their own voters, is not among them.
The state minimum wage remains mired at the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, which Congress adopted in 2007 and implemented in July 2009. As of June, the federal rate has remained unchanged for the longest period since it was established in 1938.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the buying power of the $7.25 hourly wage has declined by 17% since 2009, the equivalent of the loss of $3,000 a year in wages for a minimum-wage worker.
This year, 20 states and dozens more local governments increased their minimum wage rates to begin the new year. New Mexico increased its minimum by $1.50, raising its base wage to $10.50 an hour. New Jersey, Arkansas, California and Illinois all raised their minimums by $1 an hour.
Several other states have scheduled increases for July 1, the beginning of their next fiscal years.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers and narrow interests argue against economic justice for working people by claiming that even modest increases in the minimum wage will kill businesses. That has not happened in all six of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states, however, where ongoing minimum wage increases that began more than five years ago have not had such effect.
Many politicians who oppose minimum wage increases instead support increase in the earned income tax credit, thereby transferring to taxpayers employers’ responsibility to provide above-poverty-level compensation.
Pennsylvania should adjust its minimum wage in accordance with those of neighboring states, especially in light of a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, showing that economic activity improved in several New York counties after minimum wage increases, while declining in adjacent Pennsylvania counties where the wage has remained stagnant.
— The Citizens’ Voice, Wilkes-Barre (TNS)