January 27, 2023
Pennsylvania's minimum wage has been stagnant at $7.25 per hour since the federal minimum wage was last changed in 2009. After multiple failed attempts at raising the wage statewide, two members of City Council want lawmakers in Harrisburg to let Philadelphia set its own rates for minimum wage workers.
Councilmembers Mike Driscoll and Jim Harrity introduced a resolution on Thursday that, if passed, would urge the General Assembly to introduce legislation allowing Philadelphia to set its own minimum wage. In order to do that, the state legislature would have to amend PA State Act 112, which prevents Philadelphia from passing its own minimum wage laws.
Driscoll and Harrity want the city's minimum wage to better reflect its cost of living, which is 10% higher than the state average, according to real estate site RentCafe. When Pennsylvania's $7.25 minimum wage is adjusted to reflect Philadelphia's actual cost of living, it decreases to $6.69 per hour, making it the fourth-lowest minimum wage in a major U.S. city, the Inquirer reported.
"Philadelphians are subjected to higher costs of living than the rest of the Commonwealth, and having the minimum wage decided by officials across the state hurts working people," said Driscoll. "Many Philadelphians are experiencing an economic crisis as renters face record amounts of back-rent, rising costs of goods and services and stagnant wages. The current rate is not enough for an individual to support their family, especially in a city with a quarter of the population living in poverty."
Efforts to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania have been plagued with barriers. During his two terms as governor, Tom Wolf repeatedly asked the state legislature to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, a sentiment he echoed just before Christmas Day in 2021.
Today, myself and Councilmember Mike Driscoll introduced a resolution for Philadelphia to enact its own minimum wage laws. The hourly rate has been the same for the last 14 years, while the cost of living continues to rise. pic.twitter.com/I3SK5GTcuc— Councilmember Jim Harrity (@CM_JimHarrity) January 27, 2023
Gov. Josh Shapiro has pledged to prioritize raising the minimum wage and ensuring that residents "have the skills necessary to do the jobs of today and tomorrow."
In August, Pennsylvania raised the income threshold for tipped workers across the state in an effort to protect wages. Tipped employees across the state must earn at least $135 per month before their hourly rate can be reduced from $7.25 to the tipped minimum of $2.53 per hour.
Neighboring states like New Jersey and Delaware have made gradual increases to their minimum wage in order to reach a target of $15 per hour by 2024 and 2025, respectively. Currently, New Jersey's minimum wage is set at $14.13 per hour and Delaware's is $11.75.
"Minimum wage is more than just a labor issue — it's a human right to earn a decent living to provide themselves and their families," said Harrity. "For too long, that right has not been modified by our state legislators to account for increases in the cost of living for the past 14 years. It's up to us, as representatives of what is the poorest big city in the country, to stand up for Philadelphians and demand higher wages."
State legislatures and city councils across the country have battled over the authority to raise the minimum wage in recent years, with state lawmakers moving to pass preemption laws in order to roll back wage increases made by local governments, NPR reported.
Even if the resolution is approved by City Council, it's unclear what impact it would have on the state legislature, as both chambers are adjourned until at least Feb. 27 due to partisan gridlock in the state House.
Members of the Republican-led state Senate have opposed previous efforts to raise the minimum wage, though three special elections in the state House on Feb. 7 could shift party control of the chamber. There were eight bills introduced in the General Assembly in 2021 that would have increased the minimum wage, all of which stalled in the legislature.
City Council will likely vote on Driscoll and Harrity's resolution during next Thursday's session, which can be streamed live here.