News & Politics

Progressive think tank offers blueprint for ‘shared prosperity’ in Pennsylvania

The Keystone Research Center released its “State of Working Pennsylvania” report on Tuesday

The Pennsylvania State Capitol

The Pennsylvania State Capitol Pgiam/ Getty Images

Researchers at a progressive Pennsylvania think tank unveiled a blueprint that they say will help make the commonwealth’s economy more worker-friendly – but only if state lawmakers and the next governor actually act on their recommendations. 

The new “State of Working Pennsylvania” report, published by the Keystone Research Center, outlines three major policy prescriptions that proponents say will bring “shared prosperity” to Pennsylvania, though the extent of that prosperity will largely depend on whether policymakers adopt the organization’s recommendations, or instead choose to go in a different direction. 

The authors of the report – Stephen Herzenberg, Claire Kovach and Maisum Murtaza – said that building union power, setting newer, higher wage standards and improving the state’s job training infrastructure should be top priorities for the state’s next governor. 

“With smart and worker friendly policies over the next several years, Pennsylvania could enjoy a return to shared prosperity for the first time, really, in more than 40 years,” said Herzenberg, the executive director of the Keystone Research Center. The report’s authors suggested that adopting policies that run counter to the group’s suggestions could prove detrimental to workers in the state. 

“Policies that reduce workers’ power in the job market, individually and collectively, could quickly restore wage stagnation and decline, especially while inflation remains above 3%, and further entrench inequality for the long term,” they wrote. 

The Keystone Research Center suggests policymakers and government officials enact policies that help do the following:

  • Encourage unionization and build union power by using their platform to advocate for union growth. The authors note that it’s unlikely that Congress or the General Assembly will pass legislation that promotes unionization, so the authors suggest the creation of a task force to explore how the state can strengthen and assist worker efforts to organize.
  • Raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, while also setting new wage and benefit standards in industries such as trucking, manufacturing, caregiving, health care and education. The Keystone Research Center points to the state’s prevailing wage requirements as a model. 
  • Promote and create workforce development initiatives between the public and private sectors, such as tax credits for companies that invest in job training and education. The organization also recommends making fixes to the state’s unemployment insurance system.

While supporters of the Keystone Research Center’s plan were optimistic that the policy solutions would improve the state’s economy, they could run into some roadblocks as they look to push its proposals. 

Pennsylvanians looking for work today have increased bargaining power and higher starting wages created naturally by economic demands, showing more government interference and additional government burdens on Pennsylvania’s small business job creators is not needed.
- Jason Gottesman

For years, Democrats in the General Assembly have attempted to raise the state’s minimum wage, but have repeatedly faced opposition from Republicans who control both chambers. Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers nearly approved an increase to the state’s minimum wage in 2019. However, the measure ultimately went nowhere in the state House. 

This November’s gubernatorial election could also have major recommendations on the think tank’s agenda, depending on which party wins control of the governor’s mansion.

Jason Gottesman, a spokesperson for House Republicans, pushed back against the idea that the government should be the one to set wage requirements. 

“House Republicans have long believed that market conditions, not government mandates, should drive increases in starting wages,” Gottesman told City & State in an email. “Across Pennsylvania, starting wages have increased significantly, and remained high, as job creators across Pennsylvania are eager to find employees for open positions.” 

Herzenberg said he hopes state lawmakers and the next governor take an active role in regulating the state’s economy. “We don't have a free market, we have a market that's structured by rules and regulations,” he told reporters during a press call. “If they understand that their responsibility is to structure the rules and the regulations of Pennsylvania's economy and market so that workers can again share – in an enduring basis in – prosperity. Leading with policies in those three areas – related to unions, wages and skills – then, again, we really could be in for good times ahead for Pennsylvania workers.”

Gottesman, however, suggested that House Republicans are going to take a more hands-off approach when it comes to wages and economic policy.

“Pennsylvanians looking for work today have increased bargaining power and higher starting wages created naturally by economic demands, showing more government interference and additional government burdens on Pennsylvania’s small business job creators is not needed,” he said.

The full Keystone Research Center report can be found below.

The Keystone Research Center's "State of Working Pennsylvania" report by City & State PA on Scribd.