Senator wants to raise minimum wage, peg it to inflation

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The senator says the time is right for a wage hike to follow a national trend. Credit: Metro File Photo

State Sen. Christine Tartaglione will be in Philadelphia on Tuesday to announce a bill that would over three years gradually raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and raise the hourly tipped minimum wage from $2.83 to $4.83, with both figures tied to an inflation index.

“The time is right to do it right now because it’s being done nationally,” Tartaglione said, pointing to the 10 states that have already raised their minimum wages and two that will take up the issue this legislative term. “We’ve got to keep in pace.”

Tartaglione already raised the state’s minimum wage in 2006, a hard-fought win that took six years to accomplish.

“I cannot answer why it’s such a battle every time,” she said, pointing to a Republican-dominated legislature and right-wing governor.

“For me, this is a no-brainer.”

John Dodds of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project said he feels the time is right for another increase.

“One of the problems with our economy now is the jobs that are being created are all low wage jobs, and without more purchasing power for people at the bottom the economy stays sick,” he said, calling the bill a “win-win.”

“It’s going to help families and the broader economy by putting more money in the hands of people toward the bottom,” Dodds said.

One person who knows all too well the difficulties of living on minimum wage is Brian Thompson, 24, a PrimeFlight Aviation baggage handler who works at Philadelphia International Airport for $7.25 an hour.

“It really just becomes a matter of making decisions that you shouldn’t have to make when you are actually a working adult,” Thompson said.

“I don’t have any kids so I shouldn’t have difficulty deciding if I’m going to pay a bill in full or if I’m going to make a bill past due.”

Thompson said he feels “stuck” in his situation.

“There’s no mobility for me to travel, to do anything, to go anywhere, because I have to go to work, and if I don’t go to work, the money I’m making doesn’t cover whatever I’ve chosen to do instead,” he said.

Unable to move out of his parents’ home, Thompson hopes to leave Philadelphia to pursue more fruitful opportunities.

“If something doesn’t change, I cannot be here, because if I’m here a year from now, I’ll be here five years from now, just taking whatever’s given to me and really just scratching,” he said.

32BJ Pennsylvania state director Gabe Morgan said such change is difficult because the fastest-growing jobs are service and retail positions furnished by large corporations with deep pockets.

“Of course eliminating economic inequality is difficult when the biggest industries pay the lowest wages,” he said.

“If we had taken the same approach with American manufacturing in the ’20s and ’30s, they would have stayed the same sweatshop jobs they were in the ’20s instead of the middle class jobs we now reminisce about.”

Minimum wage snapshot

Thompson said he feels his opportunities are severely limited by the low wages he earns.

His take-home pay is $430 biweekly. Food and transportation costs amount to about $180. “The first of the month, that check’s going to be gone because I have to buy a TransPass and decide whether this bill is going to be past due,” Thompson said. “Things become late. Food and eating is always a struggle.”

He then must pay student loan and cell phone bills and contribute to cable and electricity at his mother’s house, where he still lives because he can’t afford to move out on his own.

Thompson has no cushion to cover emergencies. He said, were he to get sick, he’d “have to literally just collect the medical debt and hope the hospital doesn’t find [him].”

If he attempts to save even $50 from each paycheck, he must then budget all other expenses within $5 of his total pay. Plus, if Thompson misses a day of work, he does not get paid, bringing his biweekly take-home pay to about $370.

Legislative breakdown

Tartaglione’s proposed legislation would:

Raise the state’s $7.25 minimum wage to $7.75 retroactively back to July, then gradually increase it to $8.25 in 2014 and $9 in 2015.
Raise the state’s $2.83 tipped minimum wage immediately to $3.83, then gradually increase it to $4.83 in 2014 and to 70 percent of the base minimum wage in 2015.
Tie both minimum wages to an inflation index so they would increase automatically as the cost of living rises, “so you don’t have to keep coming back and asking for a raise in the minimum wage, the way the economy’s going,” according to Tartaglione.


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