On Thursday we released the 22nd edition of the State of Working Pennsylvania in which we review the current state of the economy with an eye towards changes in the standard of living for working families in the commonwealth. One of the new pieces of information we present in this year’s report, with the help of the crack staff at the Economic Policy Institute, is the median wage for full-time full-year workers in Pennsylvania since 1968. In that year in Pennsylvania the typical worker had hourly earnings of $3.15 per hour, and the minimum wage was $1.60 per hour or 51% of the median wage. Flash forward to 2017 and we estimate the typical full-time full year worker took home $22.43 per hour while the minimum wage is $7.25 or 32% of the median.
This decline in the earnings of minimum wage workers relative to the median for full-time full-year workers reflects the fact that policymakers since 1968 have raised the minimum wage less often, and when they have raised it they have not raised it enough to make up for the ground the minimum wage has lost relative to the median between increases. You can see this problem play out in the range of proposals to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania recently. Some policymakers have put forward proposals to raise the minimum wage to just shy of $9 per hour, which would raise the minimum wage back roughly to where it was in 2006 when the minimum wage was increased to $7.15. In contrast, a $12 minimum wage would almost get the minimum wage back to where it was in 1968 and a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2024, which we endorse, would push the minimum just beyond that previous peak and set the minimum at 57% of the median wage.
As we point out in this year’s report, since 2014 the minimum wage has increased in every state neighboring Pennsylvania by an average of 24% with further increases already scheduled in four of six states. As a result, wages for the bottom 10% of workers grew much faster in the region than in Pennsylvania. There is no evidence that these increases have slowed growth even in the industries that rely most heavily on low-wage workers.
It’s been more than a decade since legislation to raise the minimum wage has moved to the floor of the state House or state Senate for an up or down vote. A vote on this issue is long overdue.