HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A new report suggests for the first time in a long time, wages in Pennsylvania increased a healthy 3%.
The report from the Keystone Research Center credits a lot of the growth to record low unemployment.
The research center additionally outlines proposals to keep raising wages in the commonwealth.
The annual State of Working Pennsylvanians report shows unemployment below 4% for the first time in nearly half a century and wages increased on average 3%.
“In the good old days, wages used to go up by 3% every year, not once every 20 years,” said Stephen Herzenberg, economist and executive director of Keystone Research Center. “This is the first time we’ve had this kind of wage growth since 2001.”
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry says the U.S. Department of Labor has shown blue-collar wages increasing quicker than white-collar wages.
Herzenberg says his report shows a glimmer of hope, but that it is not necessarily good news for everyone.
“Black workers in Pennsylvania stunningly make about 10% less in inflation-adjusted dollars than they did in 1979,” Herzenberg said.
Herzenberg also says the top 1% garners almost half the gains in income in the state.
Nationally, opinions are beginning to change. Earlier this month, 181 CEO’s from the Business Roundtable signed onto a letter according to Herzenberg who says, “We need to be concerned not just with shareholders, but with employees, with suppliers, with customers as well.”
Herzenberg’s report calls on business leaders in Pennsylvania to look upon that example. To keep wage growth steady, Herzenberg has several suggestions.
“A proposal to increase the minimum wage, a proposal to restore overtime pay for nearly half a million salaried employees in Pennsylvania and a proposal to increase the minimum teacher’s salary,” Herzenberg said.
While wage increases overall are a good thing, how to maintain them is where opinions differ.
“Getting people the skills that they need, getting them the experiences that they need are going to help them be more successful,” said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “What will not help in that is a prohibitive minimum wage that will stop many people from even being hired in the first place.”
Barr says that to keep growth, rising healthcare costs and high corporate taxes need to be dealt with.
“What we need to do is get people willing to invest in our people and you do that by smart regulations, by limiting it to what absolutely needs to be done and by coming up with a tax policy that’s fair and makes sense,” Barr said.
Herzenberg hopes to see business leaders work with government and labor groups to develop a long term plan to pay workers more.
Lawmakers are expected to discuss a minimum wage hike when they return to the capitol in a few weeks.