Minimum wage

The Keystone Research Center released a new study last week that found more than 57,000 Lancaster County workers would get a raise if the minimum wage was increased to $10.10 an hour.

As researchers with differing ideological bias sparred about the impact of a minimum wage increase, local residents said it is time to set aside partisan battles and help put more money in the hands of those who need it most.

A new study released last week by a left-leaning think tank, Keystone Research Center, found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would help a million workers across the state — including 57,000 people, nearly a quarter of the workforce, in Lancaster County.

Related: From the NYT: Can You Live on Minimum Wage?

A few hours later, the right-leaning Employment Policies Institute fired back with a response, citing a study that found the proposed minimum wage increase would result in at least 30,000 fewer jobs in Pennsylvania.

Related: Lawmakers, labor advocates renew push for raising state's minimum wage

The competing studies drew the predictable response in Lancaster County: An advocacy group that aims to eliminate poverty said increasing wages would get residents closer to a livable wage, while the business chamber says the change would cost low-skilled workers jobs.

But city resident Melinda Robinson is not thinking about the partisan battle playing out in Harrisburg; she is too worried about how she is going to pay her bills. The 28-year-old married woman works two customer service jobs that pay less than $10.10 an hour.

“It’s easy for lawmakers to say what they think about these things, but we are the ones who have to live with whatever decision they make,” she said. “It would be nice if they took the time to talk to the people these studies are about.”

Robinson said a higher minimum wage might allow her to work fewer hours, get a better apartment or worry less about how she will pay rent. But she needs her current jobs to exist so she can pay for college classes that will hopefully lead to a more stable career.

“It seems like I’m stuck,” the McCaskey graduate said. “I can’t save anything to go back to school, but I can’t get ahead until I do.”

According to the Keystone Research Center study, Robinson is just one among the 57,560 workers in Lancaster County who would receive raises if the state raised the hourly minimum wage rate from $7.25 to $10.10. Collectively, that is $84.6 million in the hands of workers who would benefit.

Ninety-one percent of the impacted Lancaster County workers would be 20 or older, while 43 percent would be 40 or older, the study found. Women would account for 56 percent of those affected, and 54 percent of workers would be full time.

Allison Bucher, communications director for Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said the most effective means of increasing the incomes of residents is to stimulate the demand for labor to the point that businesses pay more by choice.

Mark Esterbrook, CEO of the Community Action Program of Lancaster County, said there is no denying that raising the minimum wage would help tens of thousands of residents. But the focus should be on a livable wage, he said.

“Minimum wage takes you from one level of poverty to another,” he said. “But that doesn’t take you off of any federal and state support systems.”

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