Centre Co. activists and state lawmakers weigh in on raising PA’s minimum wage

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Activists in Centre Co. rally for increase in PA minimum wage...part of state-wide rally, here's what they're demanding

Bellefonte, Centre County, PA- In less than two weeks Pennsylvania’s legislators will look to pass a balanced budget before the June 30 deadline. Added to the deadline is a push to increase PA’s minimum wage.

Monday, there were rallies across the state advocating for an increase in the minimum wage, which has stayed at $7.25 an hour since 2009.

In front of the Centre County Courthouse about 20 activists voiced their opinions on why they feel the minimum wage should go up in the keystone state.

“The minimum wage is not survivable right now… it’s not survivable for students like me, it’s not survivable for families and I hope we can change it soon,” said Robin Moussa, an activist and recent Penn State graduate living in State College.

Moussa says she earned the minimum wage while working as a student…earning $7.25 an hour and working 30 hours a week. She says her net wages didn’t come close to funding her basic needs.

“I’ve seen it firsthand how it’s not a survivable wage here. I as a student couldn’t use it to support myself and my rent… so I couldn’t imagine having children or a family,” Moussa said.

Those that disagree with raising the minimum wage cite that $7.25 was never intended to be a long-term living wage for families.

But, activists say with more families earning and relying on minimum wage… it needs to be raised

“17% of people on the minimum wage are parents with children. So for some people it is their permanent income and it needs to be something that can support them and their families,” Moussa said.

Activists are also concerned that some may not even earn the minimum wage. A recent study by Temple University found that more than 4,000 workers in Centre County face minimum wage violations each week.

After chanting outside the Centre Co. Courthouse, the group of activists, many part of the Wage Justice Coalition, headed down the road to the office of PA Representative Kerry Benninhoff’s Bellefonte Office. This was followed by a trip to Senator Jake Corman’s Bellefonte Office.

Among the activists, besides Moussa was 27-year-old Renee Chernega who told WTAJ she’s earning just above the minimum hourly wage, even at her age.

“Most of my co-workers are middle-aged, and that’s the reality: that people do need to be able to survive off of these type of jobs,” Chernega said.

But, one looming question to PA lawmakers in raising the minimum wage is: Will there be a negative impact on small business owners, who may have to pay more in wages?…And will there be fewer jobs available as a result?

Advocates for a higher minimum wage believe any lost money will flow back into local owner’s pockets with consumers having more money to spend.

“If everyone working for the minimum wage in the community has more income, they have more buying power,” Moussa said.

Consequently, she believes there could be enough funds to ensure there are not major employee layoffs.

However, not all in the commonwealth agree.

“We know this is going to cost jobs. We know this is going to cause business closures,” said Gordon Denlinger, with the National Federation of Independent Business Owners (NFIB). He points to studies indicating that a $12 an hour minimum wage (currently proposed) would result in about 30,000 jobs lost.

Denlinger added: “At the end of the day, we think the minimum wage is just a door of entry to get teenagers, maybe folks coming out of criminal justice, back into productive society.”

Other concerns persist for many opposing a min. wage increase… including concern that prices on items may be inflated along with an increase.

Again, some believe this inflation is negligible compared to the aforementioned “buying power” many believe is brought about by an increased min. wage.

Another key phrase used by those in favor of a higher min. wage: “Bargaining power”. The basic concept is that by raising the minimum wage, those earning just above that wage would have more power to push for slightly higher wages… providing them with the potential for a more “livable wage”. However, this would only be effective if a line was drawn on what hourly figure would be the cut-off point for bargaining potential raises (to avoid the snowball effect of all pay-grades bargaining for higher wages).

Who’s impacted the most?

Antony Davies, an Associate Professor of Economics at Duquesne University, said, “I think it’s important to keep in mind that raising the minimum wage is good for some people, and bad for others.”

Davies says while some will benefit from a rise in the minimum wage, he believes those hurt the most will be the “vulnerable”.

“Who ends up being let go is precisely the worker we’re looking to help the most. The people with the least skills, the least education, the least job experience,” Davies said.

What’s the current proposal look like for a minimum wage increase?

The proposed bill (House Bill 1225), supported by PA Governor Tom Wolf, calls for a $12 an hour minimum wage to take effect in 2020.

The bill also calls for the min. wage to rise to $15 an hour by 2025.

“I hope we get to $15 an hour… even if we have to temporarily compromise on it, we will. But I hope we get to $15 and more than that,” a local activist told WTAJ.

But, more than doubling the minimum wage, even five years down the road, may be too drastic of a leap for PA Republican Leadership like Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who represents Centre, Hutingdon, Mifflin and Juniata Counties.

Senator Corman has previously stated he’s looking at the possibility of setting the minimum wage in the mid eight dollar range, with an interview with WTAJ’s news partner the Centre Daily Times. But, has not given direct comments in favor or against the currently proposed $12 an hour figure.

He told WTAJ Monday: “I said in March that I was open to a discussion to consider changing the minimum wage. We are continuing to have that discussion so we can get to a place where all parties agree.”

Here’s what Governor Wolf said Monday:

“I’m sort of getting the sense that everybody, both Democrats and Republicans, want to do something to address the $7.25 minimum wage. I think there’s a broad agreement that that’s inadequate… I’m hoping we can all come together. I don’t know at this point.”

PA Republican Rep. Seth Grove says there’s no chance a deal for an increase will be made.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any movement on minimum wage”, Grove said.

He added:”I personally don’t know if that grand bargain for minimum wage is prevalent because colleagues of mine on the Democrat side are saying we’re not going below 12 and Republicans are saying we’re not going above 10.”

With the clock ticking down to two weeks and counting, it remains to be seen if an agreement can be made for a minimum wage increase.

PA currently has the lowest minimum wage compared to the commonwealth’s neighboring states.

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