HARRISBURG — As the state Legislature moves toward its first minimum wage increase in 13 years, many businesses in Lancaster County already pay above it.
The Senate voted Wednesday to raise the state minimum wage over two years to $9.50 from its current minimum of $7.25. This will largely have no impact locally, because some of the county's largest employers told LNP they all start their employees at or above $10 per hour. Even small businesses, like Harvest Moon Bagel Co., pay employees above the proposed minimum wage.
The proposed minimum wage is significantly lower than the $15 minimum wage Gov. Tom Wolf has sought since he took office in 2015. It's part of a deal between Senate Republicans and Wolf to stand down on a related proposal to extend overtime eligibility to thousands more Pennsylvania workers. The tipped minimum wage, such as for restaurant waiters, will also remain at $2.83 per hour, but the business would remain responsible to pay the minimum wage if they do not make enough through tips.
Pennsylvania has the lowest minimum wage in the region, with states like West Virginia paying $8.75 and New York paying as high as $15 per hour.
Both of Lancaster County's senators, Sens. Ryan Aument, R-Mount Joy, and Scott Martin, R-Martic Township, voted in favor of increasing the minimum wage on Wednesday.
"To me, it was a no-brainer given a choice between raising the minimum wage versus that overtime threshold," Martin said in his Capitol office Thursday.
Aument said it was a "very good compromise," adding that he's supported incrementally raising the minimum wage in past legislation he's co-sponsored.
The House has one week remaining on its calendar for 2019, which means it will likely not debate the legislation before the Capitol empties out during its winter break. And even before the bill makes its way to the House floor, it will first need to make its way through the House Labor and Industry committee, which state Rep. Jim Cox, R-Adamstown, chairs.
"There's no rush to action on that," said Mike Straub, the spokesperson for Majority Leader Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Peach Bottom.
"If the market's already moved beyond [$7.25 minimum wage], it doesn't seem like it's something the legislature needs to take firm action on," Straub said.
Still, the minimum wage — even if it's increased to $9.50 over the next two years — is below what is considered a livable wage within Lancaster County. A single person with no children needs $11.18 to earn a "livable wage," meaning all of their minimal needs are met like housing and food, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage calculator. If a single parent has one child, this more than doubles to $23.58.
This is why Cutler believes the Legislature should be focusing on filling higher paying positions and "not focusing at the very bottom of the payscale," Straub said.
Chelsea Zawisa, the owner of Lancaster city bagel shop Harvest Moon Bagel Co., said the current minimum wage "everyone knows is not a livable wage." Zawisa pays her eight employees approximately $10 per hour, plus employees are able to accept tips that brings their hourly wages up to about $12 or $13 an hour, she said.
"I guess there was concern about the $15, that I could see being difficult for a small business like us," Zawisa said. "I don't know how that would impact us."
And as the economy continues to thrive, salaries would conceivably be rising. Although salaries are still rising here, there is a gap between Lancaster County and the rest of the state. Salary growth is about 20% lower in Lancaster County than the rest of the state, according to the Lancaster County Economic Development Company.