Robert Torres: Older Pennsylvanians need more than minimum wage
It’s personal to us at the Department of Aging that more than 18% of workers earning less than $15 per hour are age 55 or older. That means 374,000 older adults are not making a living wage as they try to afford food and housing, on top of those facing or anticipating aging-related health care costs. Many seniors also serve as the primary caregiver of their grandchildren, trying to raise kids on a limited income.
We need to raise the minimum wage so our older Pennsylvanians get paid enough to live.
Gov. Tom Wolf has been steadfast in his pursuit of raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by July 1, and to $15 an hour by 2025. This proposal is supported by 38 Pennsylvania economists and has been introduced in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate.
Raising the minimum wage has become increasingly crucial to aging Pennsylvanians, especially as Americans continue to live and work longer. According to the United States Department of Labor, workers age 55 and older are the fastest growing labor group in the U.S. They anticipate that by 2024, 1 in 4 people in the labor force will be at least 55.
Unfortunately, many older adults find themselves taking minimum-wage positions after re-entering the workforce from retirement because higher-paying jobs may have educational requirements unrealistic for them or, worse, they are denied a better-paying position because of their age.
Regardless of how they found themselves in a minimum-wage job, our older Pennsylvanians deserve an income that reflects their hard work and allows them a lifestyle where they can financially contribute to their community. Many find themselves having to take advantage of public assistance because their minimum-wage pay cannot realistically support them. Older adults want to work and be independent, but low wages often leave them with little choice.
A minimum-wage increase also will benefit older adults who find themselves in long-term care settings. Pennsylvania is facing an escalating crisis with its direct care workforce. It’s a job path that is rewarding but demanding, with a constant shortage of workers, extremely high turnover and generally low pay. Many will jump at an opportunity for even a few cents more, and who can blame them? This results in seniors losing a beloved caregiver, the person they trusted with some of their most personal and intimate needs, for an often less-experienced newcomer. Or, the long-term care facility has to turn away older adults in need because they can’t retain staff. Consistency goes with quality, and Pennsylvania seniors cannot be guaranteed quality care if the direct care workforce is not fairly or adequately compensated.
We know older adults and seniors want to age in place. They want to remain in their communities working and engaging with friends and family. Without a fair wage, they can’t be truly independent.
Right now, nearly 220,000 hourly wage individuals age 55 and older are earning anywhere from below the minimum wage to $12 an hour. Those are our aging parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends, and they deserve pay that gives them self-sufficiency. It’s what they want and deserve.
It’s time for Pennsylvania to catch up with 29 other states, including our neighboring states, and give all Pennsylvanians a fair, living wage.