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If D.C. won’t increase minimum wage for Pa., Harrisburg should | Editorial

Even if you work extremely hard, and live in an area of the commonwealth with a relatively low cost of living, $7.25 just doesn’t get you very far.

Activists campaigning for a $15 minimum wage near the U.S. Capitol in Washington last month.
Activists campaigning for a $15 minimum wage near the U.S. Capitol in Washington last month.Read moreJ. Scott Applewhite / AP

Because of an obscure parliamentary rule in the United States Senate, the federal minimum wage is unlikely to get the boost it needs. That shouldn’t be the end of the story in Pennsylvania — where the minimum wage has been far too low for far too long. The last increase was 12 years ago.

President Joe Biden included a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 in his COVID-19 relief bill. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that raising the minimum wage can’t be included in budget reconciliation. The White House seems done with the fight for now, though Pennsylvania’s U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is not done and is working on an amendment to the bill to reintroduce the wage hike.

» READ MORE: Minimum wage hike all but dead in big COVID-19 stimulus bill

Even if you work extremely hard, $7.25 an hour won’t take you very far, even in areas of the commonwealth with a relatively low cost of living. In every county, the minimum wage is lower than a living wage. According to data from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, for a Pennsylvania family of four with two working adults, the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage is at least $9 an hour. In the most expensive areas in the eastern part of the state, the gap is more than $13 an hour. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in every county in Pennsylvania, a worker earning minimum wage would have to spend nearly half of their annual income, at least, to rent a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent.

Gov. Tom Wolf included a minimum wage increase in his budget proposal, first to $12 an hour in 2021 and subsequently by 50 cents every year until it reaches $15 in 2027.

According to a new report by the Pennsylvania Center for Budget and Policy, Wolf’s proposal to raise the Pennsylvania minimum wage to $15 by 2027 would impact more than 1.6 million workers. Among those overrepresented in the group that would benefit are health-care workers and service industry workers who have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The increase would also have a large impact on Black, Hispanic, and female workers — all groups that have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and have not had the same economic opportunity as white men.

» READ MORE: Could raising the minimum wage help save lives? | Editorial

Nearly a decade since fast-food workers in New York began to “Fight for $15″ and six years after Seattle become the first city to make it a reality, increasing the minimum wage has moved far beyond a liberal issue. In November, Florida voters favored Donald Trump and on the same ballot increased the minimum wage to $15. A recent Morning Consult/Politico poll found that seven in 10 voters support raising the minimum wage — including 51% of Republicans.

If $15 is too high a number for Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers, they should counter with what they think the wage should rise to — and allow municipalities like Philadelphia to set their own wage. Meanwhile, voters should ask lawmakers how they justify $7.25 compared with their own hourly rate — which, at an average salary of $90,000, is $43.27 per hour.