New Jersey and the $15 Minimum Wage

Kadida Kenner |

With yesterday’s news that the Garden State will move toward a $15 minimum wage next year as pledged by Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, and alongside his fellow Democrats who control the state Legislature, one must ask: when will Pennsylvania’s legislature get on board and follow in the footsteps of states like New Jersey, New York and Maryland?

Every single state on Pennsylvania’s borders has a minimum wage higher than the Keystone State’s. Additional hikes are already scheduled in Maryland, New York, and Ohio (see Figure 13 in Keystone Research Center’s annual report, The State of Working Pennsylvania 2017). Add expected larger increases now in New Jersey and the wage gap between PA’s low-wage workers  trying to make ends meet on as little as our current minimum wage of $7.25/hour — and those of our neighbors will widen. Low wage workers in Pennsylvania already make about $1,400 less per year (if they work full-time, full year) than minimum-wage workers in neighboring states.

Here are some other highlights from SWP 2017 of the impact of Pennsylvania lawmakers continuing to ignore Gov. Wolf’s call for a $12 per hour minimum wage despite overwhelming support for such an increase among state voters from both parties:

  • In the six states surrounding Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, hourly pay of low-wage (10th percentile) workers rose $1.02 in the last four years (through the first six months of 2017), to $9.73 per hour. That increase amounts to $2,104 per year for a full-time, full-year worker.
  • In Pennsylvania, the rise in the pay of low-wage (10th percentile) workers has been only a third as large, 33 cents per hour. If Pennsylvania low-wage workers had seen an increase as large as neighboring states, those working full-time, full year would have another $1,435 in annual income.
  • At higher wage levels (the 20th percentile and 30th percentiles), where research suggests the minimum wage still has some impact, our neighboring states have seen wages increases of about a dollar per hour, while Pennsylvania wages have increased by only 40-45 cents per hour.
  • Counting just those in the 10th percentile and below, Pennsylvania workers received $362 million less in their paychecks in the 12 months spanning the second half of 2016 and first half of 2017 than if lawmakers had increased the minimum wage like their peers in neighboring states.

Congratulations to New Jersey for taking decisive action to pay their low-wage workers something closer to an actual living wage. Now it’s Pennsylvania’s turn to follow in the footsteps of all our neighbors and ensure that the Pennsylvania wage gap for low-wage workers doesn’t expand further.