The real story on the minimum wage

Posted: May 16, 2005

THE FEDERAL government has decided that a minimum-wage increase is not a priority.

With the recent defeat by Congress of two proposals to raise the minimum wage, it is imperative that Pennsylvania find a way to raise its minimum wage on a state or local level. This is exactly what Philadelphia Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. has done.

The recent passage by City Council's Committee on Commerce and Economic Development of a proposal introduced by Councilman Goode requiring city-supported employers to pay at least 150 percent of the state minimum wage to its employees, is commendable.

I wholeheartedly support this legislation and Councilman Goode's campaign to provide a livable wage for Philadelphians.

I urge Council to pass this very important legislation and allow Philadelphia to serve as a shining example that encourages not only to other local lawmakers across the state, but also the state legislature to get involved in the business of restoring the value of the minimum wage.

Combined with legislation that I am co-sponsoring with Sen. Christine Tartaglione (SB 369) that which would gradually raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7 an hour over three years, Philadelphia's minimum-wage employers could provide a livable wage of at least $10.50 an hour by 2007.

The public typically thinks of minimum-wage workers as teenagers earning extra money at a mall. In fact, most minimum-wage earners are over 25 and two-thirds are women.

A third of adults earning the minimum wage are parents of young children, according to the federal government. The yearly salary for a minimum-wage job is $10,712 and usually offers no health insurance. These adults are often living from paycheck to paycheck. If we increase their earning power, they can, at the very least, keep pace with inflation.

It is time for Pennsylvania to join the increasing number of states that recognize the widespread economic benefit of raising the minimum wage. Several neighboring states have implemented an increase in their minimum wages.

It is time that Pennsylvania realize that we are in a crisis and do the same. Studies have shown that putting money into the pockets of vast numbers of minimum-wage earners improves the local economy because these employees spend their money locally on the necessities of life like food, clothing, rent and utilities.

IN AN EFFORT to ensure that this issue is foremost in the minds of state lawmakers, my Senate Democratic colleagues and I plan to take steps to ensure that minimum-wage legislation will be highly visible.

If opponents continue stonewalling, we are prepared to amend a wide array of Senate bills to force a debate and vote on improving the buying power of working families.

It's a no-brainer: By increasing the minimum wage, we allow people to keep pace with inflation. And we also increase the purchasing power of the minimum-wage worker, thereby strengthening Pennsylvania's economy.

Councilman Goode is leading the battle on the local level. It is in the best interest of both the state and local governments to restore the value of the minimum wage and fuel the state's economy by putting money back into local businesses, the community, the city - and across the state. *

Vincent Hughes is a state senator from West Philadelphia.

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