More than one million workers in Pennsylvania would benefit from a higher state minimum wage. That is the conclusion of a Harrisburg-based think tank report.
Around the city of Harrisburg, renting a two-bedroom apartment would run someone an average $895 a month, according to city-data.com. That same person would have to earn $17.21 an hour to cover those basic living costs, more than twice Pennsylvania’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage.
Leron McQuilla said wages are too low to live in today’s high-cost society.
"After you pay your bills, you're back to no money again," he said.
Steve Matthews lives and works in Harrisburg. Despite working as many hours as he can, he still finds it tough to make ends meet.
"I'm working, but it's still a struggle when you're making less than what the things cost," he said.
Last fall, state Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) introduced a bill that proposed to raise the state minimum wage to $9 an hour, $10.10 the following year. Her proposal increased tipped worker wages as well.
Using $10.10 as its base, Keystone Research Center conducted a study on how many workers in Pennsylvania would benefit from earning a higher minimum wage. Their research concluded that 1.07 million workers would benefit from the hike both directly and indirectly.
KRC found that 49,200 workers in the Harrisburg-Carlisle metro area and 49,000 in Lancaster County would benefit directly.
"That's a lot of people who are struggling,” Kim said, “who can't make ends meet because the hourly rate is too low."
KRC economists also found that Pennsylvania’s current wages do not meet inflation or match the productivity growth since 1968. Research stated current wages are 23 percent below what they were in 1968.
House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said the report is presented as fact, but has a left-leaning bias.
“It's an utterly partisan, not even liberal. It's just a partisan group,” he said. “So, what credibility do they really have?"
Miskin explained most state GOP lawmakers believe the state should not mandate wages. He said small business would be forced to lay off workers or implement hiring freezes to cover added employee costs.
"For anybody to say it doesn't affect business decisions, they're wrong. It does," Miskin said.
There have been whispers among GOP lawmakers about proposing their own minimum wage hike. However, the figure would be less than the $10.10 an hour bill supported by Democrats.
Kim said workers have the leverage because the types of minimum wage jobs are primarily in the service industry.
"You cannot replace these people with robots,” she said.” You need to have warm bodies doing these services. Business owners will have to adjust to rising costs like everything else, except the hourly rate, which is hurting so many Pennsylvanians."
Pennsylvania business leaders and lobbyists argue the minimum wage increase would only benefit a population of workers in entry-level positions or earning pocket money.
"It's mainly a training wage,” said Miskin. “It's a youth wage. Those are not meant to be living wages."
Kim calls that line of thinking a false stigma. She said that is why 22 other states have a higher minimum wage than $7.25 an hour, which is the current federal law requirement.
"They're not struggling, they're not suffering,” Kim said. “We can do the same and I think we can actually see the economy grow."
The KRC report comes a day before May 8, which has become an annual Day of Action. Rallies are scheduled to be held at the state Capitol to fight for increased wages.
Pennsylvania lawmakers have had 17 pay raises since the 1995 Automatic Pay Increase Law went into effect for top state officials. Only in 2009 did salaries remain status quo when the national economy dipped.