Pennsylvania and the push to raise the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour, explained

Gov. Wolf keeps asking for an increase. It hasn't happened yet.

Pennsylvania's minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal rate. ( Ed Mahon / PA Post)

Pennsylvania's minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal rate. ( Ed Mahon / PA Post)

This story originally appeared on PA Post.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has pushed for a statewide minimum wage increase every year since taking office in 2015.

He hasn’t gotten one.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Here’s a look at the issue, which is poised to again be a point of debate in Wolf’s second term.

When was the state minimum wage last raised?

In 2006, when Democrat Ed Rendell was governor, state lawmakers approved an increase.

The rate went from $5.15 an hour to $6.25 an hour and then to $7.15 an hour.

Then, in 2009, the federal minimum wage increased to $7.25 an hour. Pennsylvania’s rate increased to match it.

What about other states?

As of the beginning of 2019, Pennsylvania was one of 21 states that didn’t require employers to pay a wage higher than the federal level.

But Pennsylvania’s neighboring states did have higher minimum wages, according to the United States Department of Labor statistics.

Here’s a look at the rates for Pennsylvania’s neighbors as of Jan. 1, 2019:

Maryland: $10.10 per hour
West Virginia: $8.75
Ohio: $8.55
New York: $11.10
New Jersey: $8.85
Delaware: $8.75

The Department of Labor notes that some states have  exemptions for minimum wage rates for certain jobs and industries — such as ones in which people earn tips — or they have different rates for minors. And some local governments set higher minimum wage rates. Those and other differences are not included in the information above.

About the map
Gray = States that have a minimum wage at or below the federal level.
Light blue = Minimum wage higher than $7.25 per hour and less than $10.01 per hour
Dark blue = Minimum wage higher than $10 per hour
Data as of Jan. 1, 2019

What has Wolf proposed before

Wolf has advocated for raising the minimum wage and tying the rate to inflation.

In 2015, he proposed an increase to $10.10 an hour. Then, in 2016, he proposed an increase to $10.15 per hour.

Then, in 2017 and 2018, he proposed an increase to $12 per hour.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Even though those items didn’t pass, Wolf has taken other action.

He signed an executive order in June raising the minimum wage for employees under his jurisdiction to $12 an hour, beginning July 1. That rate is set to gradually increase to $15 per hour by 2024, after which increases will be tied to inflation.

The order also covers certain other employees, including those of state contractors.

What are the odds of a minimum wage increase passing in Pa.?

Mark Price, a labor economist with the Keystone Research Center and supporter of a minimum wage increase, says it’s hard to put odds on the chances.

“It really just comes down to whether you’re an optimist at heart or a pessimist, and I kind of tend to bounce around,” Price said.

Wolf’s press secretary, J.J. Abbott, said the issue will remain a top priority for the governor.

But Republicans still control both chambers of the General Assembly, and the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate lost some of their more moderate members in the 2018 election.

Rep. Bryan Cutler, who was elected as the new state House majority leader in November, was asked about the odds of Wolf getting a minimum wage or severance tax increase in the new session.

“He’s asked repeatedly and failed to get those things,” Cutler told John Baer of “And based on past responses, I think it’s probably unlikely.”

In December, Senate Republican Caucus spokeswoman Jenn Kocher said Republicans had not prioritized issues for the upcoming session. She said the caucus tends to defer to committee chairs.

What supporters say

Price has argued that minimum wage increase don’t have a big impact on employment but do have a big impact on wages and incomes for low-wage workers. And he says the current rate hasn’t kept pace with cost increases for food, rents and private transportation.

What opponents say

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry has a section of its website dedicated to opposing minimum wage increases. The group argues that minimum wage increases don’t “address the income and skills gaps that are causing real problems for the Commonwealth.”

What about cities and local governments?

State law prevents them from raising the minimum wage for all employers in their area, Price said.

But in Philadelphia, officials have approved increases for city workers, as well as for employees of contractors and subcontractors, according to WHYY. Most recently, the city approved a phased-in increase, from $12.20 an hour to $15 an hour.

What do the state’s independent fiscal experts say?

Gradually increasing the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour would raise wages for more than 1 million workers, the state Independent Fiscal Office estimated in April of 2018. But it would also result in about 33,000 fewer job opportunities, the study estimated.

That same report from the Independent Fiscal Office described “the contentious nature of the debate that surrounds higher minimum wages.”

Results of studies can vary greatly based on the data used, the industries examined and other factors, the office said.

PA Post is a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization that connects Pennsylvanians with accountability and deep-dive reporting.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal