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PA Economy Bubbling

JobsMore people found work in the commonwealth in September, which dropped our unemployment rate from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent. Among our neighboring states, Pennsylvania now has the 2nd lowest jobless rate behind Ohio, where unemployment is at 5.6 percent.

The commonwealth is 21st in the country for unemployment but has experienced one of the larger drops in year-over-year percentage change: 1.6 percent.

Does the improvement mean Pennsylvania is burning up the job growth charts? Not really. Since September 2013, the commonwealth has generated 35,400 new jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That improvement in employment growth – just for the past 12 months – places us 44th in the country. New York (35th), West Virginia (12th) and Delaware (5th) enjoyed better growth.

Since the governor took office in 2011, the commonwealth, according to the same Bureau of Labor Statistics, is dead last in job growth.

In the year preceding Tom Corbett’s arrival, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Keystone Research Center, Pennsylvania was 10th in job growth.

You can determine the truest reflection of the state of Pennsylvania’s economy next month when the state’s Independent Fiscal Office delivers its annual economic and budget outlook through 2020.

IFO’s presentation will happen at 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

If you like making economic forecasts yourself, make sure you visit the Independent Fiscal Office’s website. It’s a good place to get fair snapshots and information about PA’s economy.

Minimum Wage

Minimum wage workers likely did not build the George Washington Bridge that members of NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s administration ordered partly closed as political retribution last year, so I’m curious about the governor’s comments this week about workers who earn the meager base hourly rate.

According to the Washington Post, Christie said, “I'm tired of hearing about the minimum wage. I really am. I don't think there's a mother or a father sitting around the kitchen table tonight in America saying, 'You know, honey, if our son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all of our dreams would be realized.' Is that what parents aspire to for their children?"

Few people are fighting for a higher minimum wage because they want their kids to earn a few extra dollars. We are fighting for more money per hour because it isn’t kids who are the predominant minimum wage earners these days; it’s women and men who are older than 25.

In fact, slightly more than half of minimum wage earners are at least 25 years old and the vast majority of minimum wage earners are women.

Even in New Jersey, according to the NY Daily News, a quarter of minimum wage earners are actually the parents, and 45 percent of minimum wage earners have attended college.

You don’t even have to cite statistics to understand just how little $7.25 an hour really is these days. Just think if you asked someone – anyone – to do something in your home for an hour, or less than an hour. Would you pay them just $7.25? Would you pay them just $10? Most of us would probably pay at least $20.

McDonald’s has been one of the big targets in the minimum wage fight and it was curious to read a Wall Street journal editorial this week suggesting that the global company, despite its quarterly drop in profit and revenue, could not – and should not – increase its minimum wage because it could lead to future sales declines.

There’s no evidence, yet, tying McDonald’s sales performance to its refusal to increase its minimum wage, but the fast-food conglomerate isn’t losing sales because of a potential pecuniary increase. As a news story in a different section of the paper noted, the company is suffering financially because of “problems in nearly every major part of its business.”

Competition and an “increasingly complicated menu” are hurting the Golden Arches, according to the Journal.

There are no good arguments for why the minimum wage should not be increased; only scare-mongering by those who want to be greedy.

As small business owner Paul Saginaw said this week in a U.S. Department of Labor blog, (Work in Progress): “The right to conduct business is earned by being a good corporate citizen — by producing products and delivering services responsibly, hiring responsibly, generating profits responsibly, and finally, sharing profits with those who help produce them and with the wider community from which the revenues are drawn.”

Real Education Funding Problem?

EducationThere is no doubt that Pennsylvania has a big pension problem. The problem is cutting into the way we pay for basic education. I don’t believe, however, that it is fair to blame teachers and administrators for education’s financial issues like the Corbett administration has been doing for its entire existence.

Corbett administration policies are the big reasons for the problems in our classrooms, especially in Philadelphia. One of those policies is the state’s funding of charter schools.

Philadelphia Controller Alan Butkovitz underlined just how deleterious the charter school funding problem is in Philly when he issued a report this week outlining the impact of charters on the finances of the city school district.

“As charter school enrollments have grown, and as the financial fortunes of the SDP have fallen, Philadelphia’s Charter Schools have, in the aggregate, consistently run a surplus. In 2013, while the SDP faced a deficit in the $70 million range, the Charter Schools posted an aggregate positive fund balance of $117 million,” Butkovitz wrote in his report’s executive summary.

“In the aggregate, Philadelphia’s Charter Schools have run substantial fund balances in each year covered by this report, 2008-2013. In the same period, the School District of Philadelphia has run substantial fund deficits. At the end of 2013 the Charter sector’s books indicated a positive fund balance of $117 million, while the District’s were $70 million in arrears,” he concluded.

Hopefully the growing financial pressures that school districts throughout the commonwealth are feeling will be relieved once the newly formed Basic Education Funding Commission does its work and comes back to the General Assembly with a better formula for distributing precious tax dollars for basic education. One of the changes should better balance payments to charters.

Fair Wage Business of the Week

MarbleWhile big-box retailers, like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, may have cornered the book market with their product variety and piping-hot cappuccinos, independently owned bookstores, like Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia, are proving that small, local shops – while having lower net profits – have robust public value.

Whether you’re a student looking to write a college admissions essay or get homework help, a child or adult who enjoys writing, a parent of a child who loves story time, or an individual who wants to become more involved in his or her community, Big Blue Marble offers a personalized and community-based setting that cannot be mirrored by its larger chain store competitors.

An even better reason to support this independent store is that it is one of 1,000 businesses across the U.S. and 23 employers within Pennsylvania that has signed-up to support an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour with annual cost-of-living adjustments.

Big Blue Marble Bookstore knows that everyone has his or her own niche, and it tries to cater to an eclectic mix of customers through its multicultural and contemporary literary offerings for all age groups. Additionally, the store provides writing workshops and classes, weekly events, children’s story times, book clubs, guest speakers, organizational fundraisers and a community room for groups to meet.

Above the store, café tables surrounded by book shelves offer a relaxing atmosphere for friends and family members to come together to discuss daily happenings and peruse favorite stories, while sipping on fresh hot or cold beverages.

At Big Blue Marble Bookstore, the enthusiasm for books, support of hard-working employees and commitment to customers and the entire community make this store a perfect choice for anyone who is interested in more than a cheap read. For real value, I encourage you to check out Big Blue Marble – a truly priceless public asset to Pennsylvania and minimum wage workers everywhere.