Local state lawmaker pushes to raise Pa. minimum pay

Local lawmaker State Representative Patty Kim is making a push to raise pay for Pennsylvania workers. Kim wants to increase the state's minimum wage by $1.75.

Having a roof overhead will cost renters $895 a month on average for a two-bedroom apartment in Pennsylvania according to city-data.com. In order to pay that monthly bill, a person must make at least $17.21 an hour—more than twice Pennsylvania's minimum wage of $7.25.

This scenario is just one reason why State Rep Patty Kim (D-Dauphin County) is so adamant about increasing basic wages for workers.

“[$7.25] simply does not provide a livable wage,” said Kim.

Kim stood outside the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg on a breezy day to announce her proposal to boost the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, and $10.10 the following year.

Currently the state required hourly minimum wages are $2.83 for tipped workers, $4.25 training pay for workers under 20, and $6.16 for student workers. The $7.25 is also the federal minimum wage that was passed in 2009, which Pennsylvania also adopted.

A minimum wage employee working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year earns $58 a day, $290 a week, $15,080 a year. Pennsylvania's poverty line is marked at $14,500 a year. Kim pointed out for a family of three, the poverty line is $19,500, way below the yearly minimum wage earnings.

Auchaa Burhannan works at a dollar store in Lower Paxton; she said she is a mother of two kids who earns minimum wage.

“It's extremely hard,” she said. “I'm basically living paycheck to paycheck.”

Matt Brouillette with The Commonwealth Foundation said someone like Burhannan's situation is rare, explaining most minimum wage earners are entry-level employees and teenagers. Brouillette said raising the minimum wage have a negative impact on the Pennsylvania economy. He said employers would be forced to freeze hiring and layoff less-skilled workers.

“Ultimately it's the least among us who end up being hurt the most when we arbitrarily increase wages,” he said.

During her press conference, Kim expected pushback and noted words from “critics” are mostly about greed.

“This scare tactic simply is not true,” she said. “In fact, raising the minimum wage will actually strengthen the economy.”

Earning $10.10 an hour would increase a person's yearly income about $6,000, earning them an overall $21,000 annually. Kim said her bill would pull people out of poverty.

“This isn't about lifting people out of poverty,” said Brouillette. “But what it will do is destroy one of the rungs of climbing that economic ladder for people trying to take care of themselves.”

Brouillette said the state economy took a hit in 2006, the last time lawmakers raised the state minimum wage. House leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) said this isn't a money issue—it's a moral issue.

“People are suffering, they need it,” he said. “And it's the right thing to do.”

There are 11 states that currently have a higher minimum wage than the federal rate, which mirrors Pennsylvania. In all 11 of those states, the unemployment rate is lower than PA, which is 7.7 percent as of August.

In the past 30 years there have only been three increases to the minimum wage. Economists have said if minimum wage matched inflation, the hourly rate should be $10.70.

The decision up to the very people who have had 17 pay raises since the 1995 Automatic Pay Increase Law went into effect for top state officials. Only once did lawmakers' salaries remain status-quo in 2009 when the national economy tanked.

Burhannan's mother said lawmakers should understand who they rely on for their paychecks.

“One day they need to take a step back and walk in their shoes and see how it is a struggle each day, living from paycheck to paycheck.”

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