Editorial: Is Wolf’s minimum wage increase too high for Pennsylvania?
Everybody wants a raise.
That means a lot of people hear Gov. Tom Wolf’s resurrection of a plan to increase the minimum wage and think that’s a good thing.
The people who sign those paychecks — or the people who believe they will lead to higher prices to offset the costs — don’t agree. Republicans in the Pennsylvania Legislature sided with them against the Democratic governor the last time the issue was raised.
But now Wolf is bringing it back from the dead, and maybe now is the time for a serious look at the idea. It might have to be, because Pennsylvania is surrounded.
The Keystone State is all alone in offering the federal minimum wage of $7.25 in a sea of other states bordering it.
Ohio is closest with a minimum of $8.55 starting this year. West Virginia went to $8.75 in 2016, and Delaware joined it this month. Maryland offers $10.10 an hour, with one county requiring up to $12.25. Likewise, New York’s overall minimum is $11.10 an hour, with three counties at $12 and New York City going as high as $15.
Wolf’s proposal is similar, looking for a boost to $12 in 2019, with 50 cent increases until 2025, ending at $15 an hour. That would be about a 50 percent increase from the minimum right now, and would be double in six years.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are about 2.2 million hourly workers who make at or less than minimum wage. They make up about 2.7 percent of the American work force. On average, they are young women, 16 to 25 years old, black or white, without a high school diploma and unmarried. They probably work part time in food service.
Critics say the change will just mean employers hire fewer workers, or even lay off some already on the payroll. They point to the self- service kiosks at places like McDonald’s, GetGo and Sheetz as more affordable long-term alternatives to increased wages for workers.
But Pennsylvania probably will be forced into the move eventually given the surrounding states’ decisions.
Wolf might make more progress if his opening offer weren’t quite so steep.
A leap to $12 an hour will take Pennsylvania from one of the lowest paying states to one of the highest minimum wages overnight, and an advancement to $15 would put it on the same playing field with California, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, D.C.
A smaller step, like moving to match Ohio or West Virginia, likely would be easier to sell to employers as well as the GOP.