The Phoenix

Raising the minimum wage: Economic justice for Pa. workers

- By Rep. Patty Kim Kim has served five terms as state representa­tive of Pennsylvan­ia’s 103rd Legislativ­e District.

In my 10 years as a legislator, I’ve always tried to err on the side of altruistic caution in my support of programs and legislatio­n that help those who need it most. You know them: the underprivi­leged, the marginaliz­ed, the single mother with three kids, three jobs and no generation­al wealth.

Pushback from the opponents of these measures herald the line “help those who help themselves” in response to proposals that would alleviate the burdens of poverty. But what about those showing up to work every day only to be left fielding debt after bills decimate their paycheck, leaving no possibilit­y of an investment in themselves or their family’s future?

The idea that simply working hard will put you ahead and provide the means to not only succeed, but to thrive, is a myth. The idea that simply working hard will allow one to sustain themselves, let alone their family, is detached from the realities of our economic landscape. Promising the ability to make ends meet and not the assurance that hard work will provide for social mobility is a recipe for a dissatisfi­ed and dishearten­ed workforce.

A minimum wage should be a livable wage, as the federal minimum wage was intended to be. It should not only provide enough to scrape by while forcing choices between necessitie­s such as food, health care, childcare, transporta­tion and paying off debt.

Inflation has eroded purchasing power across the board. Significan­t spikes in the cost of living have ensnared even median wage earners in the many times lifelong trap of living paycheck to paycheck. An increase guarantees a positive impact on our local economies, as it would put more money into the pockets of workers who are likely to spend it on goods and services, thereby driving economic growth and job creation.

This increase would be a critical step toward ensuring that all Pennsylvan­ia workers are able to support themselves and achieve financial freedom from the dependence of government programs.

They are not just teens and students earning some extra pocket change, as some consistent­ly argue, but are people who use their buying power to support their families and keep others working. They are real people in our community — like the woman who wrote me to say she’s working 60 hours a week at three different hotels to make ends meet.

Every state bordering Pennsylvan­ia has a higher minimum wage, which sends a message to our workers that they are not valued because it’s still legal to pay them $7.25.

In our labor market, job openings have outpaced hiring for several months. If a wage increase were to take effect, Pennsylvan­ia would become a competitiv­e market for workers, attracting more candidates to fill those job openings. If we want to mitigate high turnover rates, we have to offer a premium salary.

Those who oppose a raise point to the jobs lost. But as people working multiple jobs to stay afloat shed their second and third jobs, they are opened to the workforce. It is better for two people to have one good-paying job each than for one person to have three with poor wages.

In 2006, we voted to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 per hour. Since that time, lawmaker salaries have risen by over $13,000 automatica­lly through a cost-of-living index while everyone else’s was raised 10 cents. How can we justify giving ourselves automatic pay raises, but not the people we serve?

This is a chance to immediatel­y help hundreds of thousands of working people help themselves and our economy. I urge my fellow lawmakers to support this effort and to stand with our state’s low-wage workers in achieving economic justice for all Pennsylvan­ia residents. Together, we can make Pennsylvan­ia a place where our lowest-paid workers can rely on fair, family sustaining and equitable pay for the essential work they perform.

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