The impact of Covid-19 has further exposed how vulnerable our nation’s economy can be during a crisis, particularly on our poorest hourly waged workers. During the most difficult time in our nation's history, it was these dedicated workers in my community, most of whom receive a minimum wage pay of $7.25, who put their lives on the line to make sure the rest of us were able to receive our food, health care, and other daily essentials and services during the pandemic.
These frontline heroes provided these services not just because of their occupational commitment, but more so out of necessity for survival. While many of us were able to telecommute and work from home during Covid, these essential workers had no such luxuries. Already working on a fragile economic lifeline due to low wages, losing just one day of work would mean them not having enough to provide a meal for their family, keeping the furnace running or paying their rent. These workers, many who are women, people of color and immigrants, are our most fragile workers and deserve better economic protection.
The Covid era exposed the ugliness of subjecting our workers to a $7.25 hourly wage and the need to do something about it.
According to HUD’s federal guidelines, a person should not spend more than 30% of their income on housing. That means that a worker making $7.25, Pennsylvania's current statewide minimum wage, can only afford to put $400 a month towards their housing, not including utilities. In the Philadelphia region, finding decent housing at this price is nonexistent.
There are solutions to the minimum wage crisis that [means] power back in the hands of the people. Currently, Pennsylvania restricts localities attempting to raise their own minimum wage, this is called “wage preemption.” This means that localities across the Commonwealth cannot make the decisions best for their residents and local economies. Essentially, wage preemption ties the hands of any locality looking to provide a living wage to residents and workers.
If we do not end wage preemption in Pennsylvania, we will never provide a living wage for future generations. Pennsylvania has not raised the minimum wage since 2006, and we cannot expect our current legislative body to ever raise the wage on its own. As a local official, myself, I want to be able to make the best decisions for the community that I serve, and that includes having a say on the minimum wage.
Rep. Kevin Boyle, and Wage Local PA, a grassroots campaign working to end minimum wage preemption in Pennsylvania, introduced a bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that allows local municipalities to set their minimum wages. We cannot wait for Washington or Harrisburg to do what is right for working families. Instead of relying on elected officials at the federal or state level, we should trust local officials to do what's right on behalf of their community.
The lives of our friends, family and neighbors and the strength of our communities depend on a living wage that meets the needs of the time. Local officials across the Commonwealth have a finger on the pulse of the community, understanding the needs of residents, businesses and workers. Ending wage preemption and putting control back in the hands of localities to determine what's best for communities is crucial to helping workers in a community, like mine, earn what they deserve.
Anthony C. Stevenson, Ed. D. has 25 years of experience in the field of Public education community service. He is currently a Lower Merion Township Commissioner and the principal of Radnor Elementary School in Wayne. He is also an adjunct professor of cultural geography at Rowan University and an adjunct professor of education leadership at Temple University and Villanova University.