Raise the Wage rally

Ian Medina speaks during a Raise the Wage rally in Lancaster's Binns Park on Thursday, April 18, 2019. 

THE ISSUE

Pennsylvania legislators appear set for a genuine conversation about the minimum wage this month. “Raising the wage is getting its most serious discussion since Democratic Gov. (Tom) Wolf began calling for an increase in 2015 and, for that matter, since the federal minimum wage was last increased in 2009,” Marc Levy of The Associated Press reported in an article published in Monday’s LNP. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is currently aligned with the $7.25 per hour federal minimum. Wolf’s proposal “also eliminates Pennsylvania’s $2.83 tipped-wage minimum, as a few other states have done,” the AP noted.

There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue involving our state’s minimum wage. It’s an important debate to have, and we’re glad to see our lawmakers in Harrisburg circling around the long-neglected topic.

The LNP Editorial Board hasn’t yet made up its mind on this issue, which is why we want to see a robust conversation both in Harrisburg and here. To that end, we would like to hear from readers. (There’s information at the end of the editorial on how to make your voice heard.)

Wolf’s newest proposal on minimum wage, unsurprisingly, wasn’t received warmly by Republicans. But GOP lawmakers might be willing — in exchange for action on their own priorities — to support some level of minimum-wage increase, the AP reported.

We’re not the biggest fans of “horse-trading,” as it’s called. If it makes good sense to change or update a particular law, it should happen on its own terms, and not in conjunction with an agreement elsewhere. Nonetheless, we understand that’s how Harrisburg generally operates.

“Some lawmakers have speculated Democrats might be able to get a wage win by compromising on certain regulatory requirements,” WITF’s Katie Meyer reported this week. Also, Senate Republicans have mulled tying a minimum wage increase “to policies to get more people into the workforce and off public assistance programs,” the AP reported. Adds House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Peach Bottom: “I’d rather focus on the jobs that pay far more than minimum wage and get career pathways to get individuals earning a lot more.”

The Republican case against increasing Pennsylvania’s minimum wage generally centers around concerns that it would harm business owners and “kill off low-wage jobs that are an on-ramp to the workforce,” the AP reported. Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education in December, author Tom Mullen asserted that “minimum wage laws cause unemployment ... because they price those workers whose skills don’t justify the minimum wage out of the market completely.”

Meanwhile, some arguments in favor of raising the minimum wage stress that Pennsylvania is lagging behind other states. It is one of 21 states tied to the $7.25 federal minimum wage, which means that “the other 29 states, including all of Pennsylvania’s neighbors, have higher minimums,” the AP reported. Wolf believes a wage increase would improve the state’s finances, and some Democrats say it would boost stagnant wages for the lowest earners.

Elsewhere in today’s Opinion section, Lancaster City Council member Ismail Smith-Wade-El makes his case for raising the minimum wage. He frames it, partially, as a moral issue, writing: “It is time to make audacious demands on behalf of Pennsylvanians, to envision a wage that recognizes the value of the human beings who work for it. ... Thousands of our neighbors are being paid less than the value of their labor, which is shameful when that labor is the only thing that makes profit or wealth possible in the first place.”

Also in today’s section, in a column by the Philadelphia Daily News’ John Baer, state House member Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware County, notes that Pennsylvania’s minimum wage hasn’t risen, but college costs have soared exponentially in recent years. That combination makes it hard for students to cover their expenses — let alone tuition — while working their way through college. And thus they graduate with greater and greater debts. That, in turn, can destroy credit, make home-buying difficult and turn “hopes of career success and financial stability into a nightmare of struggling for decades,” O’Mara stated.

The back and forth continues. Members of Raise the Wage PA, at an April rally in Binns Park, stressed that when low-income workers get raises, the money gets spent in the community, bolstering the local economy. But the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry counters that minimum wage increases can “often lead to reduced employee hours, job loss and a higher cost for goods and services.”

There are so many compelling views and angles to this debate, however you frame it. And now we’re going to see it play out in Harrisburg.

The question of raising the minimum wage is on the table. What do you think?

Email a letter to the editor (no more than 250 words) to LancasterLetters@lnpnews.com or mail to: Letters, c/o LNP, P.O. Box 1328, Lancaster PA 17608-1328.

If you’re interested in writing an op-ed (no more than 750 words), contact Suzanne Cassidy at scassidy@lnpnews.com or Chris Otto at cotto@lnpnews.com.