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(Another) Case for a Higher Minimum

CheckIn my passionate fight to increase Pennsylvania's minimum wage, I've listened to people and businesses who are opposed to this eventuality, worked with supporters to help them voice their message, countered skepticism with statistics and historical fact, and have maintained my focus in this battle: our frontline workers.

So it was somewhat surprising to read a story about the cost of living in a major publication that has been notoriously editorially opposed to increases in the minimum wage. It reported the best reasons for green-flagging a higher base hourly rate:

"Over the past half spending by middle-income Americans rose 24 percent...spending on rent soared 26 percent, as some families lost their homes and rising demand for apartments helped push up monthly rent...while outlays on food eaten at home rose 12.5 percent," the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

To offset these increases, people in the $18,000/year to $95,000/year category – those representing 60 percent of middle income Americans – obviously cut out-of-pocket expenses; things like eating less or eating more non-nutritional food and spending less to care for themselves, their children, and elderly parents.

Since July 24, 2009, Pennsylvania's minimum wage earners have not been paid any more for their efforts. No pay raise. Meanwhile, prices of anything and everything have dramatically increased.

Twelve and 26 percent increases are tough to budget for people making $50,000 a year. You cannot imagine what it is like for a minimum wage employee working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, at an annual salary of $15,080..

Not only would a higher minimum wage help raise Pennsylvanians out of working poverty, it would also help the commonwealth pay its bills.

And the commonwealth needs all the help it can get.

As the final mid-year budget briefing confirmed this week, incoming Gov. Tom Wolf will have a $2 billion deficit to bridge when he arrives next month, thanks to the failed policies of the Corbett administration.

We could raise new revenue by increasing Pennsylvania's minimum wage.

As it delivers more income tax revenue, a higher base hourly rate would help employers keep and hire more productive workers. It would also put more money in workers' pockets, as historical evidence suggests.

Ten states and Washington D.C. increased their minimum wage rates in 2014, including Delaware and Maryland.

Minimum wages will increase in nine states Jan. 1, including in New Jersey and Ohio.

And talk about unfairness: the people who are working during the holidays and, most recently, Black Friday, are the very same minimum wage earners. Major retailers are enslaving their employees to earn millions for their owners and executives.

"Having to skip the actual meal portion of the day so you can sell cheap TVs to bored shoppers trying to escape their families is already an indignity, but, as Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones reports, the pain is compounded by many who have bosses who don't even bother to tell them they're working Thanksgiving until right before the holiday,"'s Amanda Marcotte recently wrote.

Thanksgiving and other major holidays are for everyone. This trend is more than disturbing.

PA Unemployment

HelpWantedYou know by now that Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dipped to 5.4 percent in October, but did you know improvement on the jobless front is still behind other state performances?

Since January 2011, the national unemployment rate dropped by 3.3 percent as PA’s rate declined 2.7 percent.

Even more glaring is the fact that PA’s total labor force this past October was down 66,844 workers and remained below the level it was when outgoing Gov. Corbett took office. Meanwhile, the national labor force grew by nearly 1.7 million individuals in the year leading up to October 2014 and has increased by more than 3 million since January 2011.

Another omen is the fact that 2014 will probably be the best year for job growth in the country since 1999!

CNN reported this morning that another 321,000 jobs were added nationwide in November – or about 100,000 more than expected.

“Americans found employment in a wide array of industries. Professional and business services added 86,000 positions, with particularly strong hiring in accounting and book keeping,” the cable news network said.

State of Manufacturing Pay

ManufacturingMany people like to say that manufacturing is the backbone of America. A new study by the National Employment Law Project suggests, however, that our country's spine needs an expert chiropractor.

According to NELP, the average factory worker earned 7.7 percent less than the median wage for all occupations in 2013, more than 600,000 manufacturing employees earn $9.60/hour or less, and real wages for manufacturing workers drop nearly three times faster than for employees as a whole.

Manufacturing, nationally, has picked up in recent years, but not in Pennsylvania. According to our own Department of Labor & Industry, factories shed 1,700 jobs between July and August and 5,400 jobs between August 2013 and August 2014. Over 10 years, PA lost 134,300 manufacturing positions.

Communities want factories to open within their borders -- and that is just another reason why our economy is desperate and people are struggling.

NELP's conclusion?

"The ramifications for the workers, the communities that are hosting these jobs, and the
U.S. economy are far-reaching, and include increasing inequality as middle-class jobs do not return, drains on taxpayers as local and federal subsidies fail to alter manufacturers' behavior and fail to deliver quality jobs, and a lack of accountability for businesses that seek only to enhance profits at the expense of working families and local communities."

The ramifications -- and there will be ramifications if things don't change for the better -- could be just around the corner, as contributing writer Erik Sherman wrote yesterday:

"We're seeing a new atmosphere of labor organizing and concern because of some basic economic truths: People who can't afford to live and done [sic] see a way out become desperate, and labor market inefficiencies keep companies and employees from meeting at what might be true wage levels," Sherman said in his column.

Fair Wage Business of the Week

SolarMonthly bills and holiday spending take a toll on most people's bank accounts this time of year, but imagine if there was a way to invest your money, so that you could reduce the amount of money and number of bills you pay in the future. That's the reality when you purchase solar energy systems for your home or business. At Exact Solar in Yardley, PA, the owner and staff are regional leaders in installing solar PV, water heating and pool heating systems. Not only does this company aim to create a more environmentally responsible society, but also, it supports pro-worker wage policies. By raising the minimum wage, Exact Solar understands low wage workers will see vast improvements in their quality of life.

At Exact Solar, a family-owned and operated company, renewable energy is not just a's a belief and a way of life. From private installations to local government projects, this company works with a wide-range of customers, educating and providing quality results that have earned it an award-winning reputation.

Mark Bortman, owner of Exact Solar, began the company in 2005 after studying under a solar energy expert in Puerto Rico for a year to advance his knowledge and skill in alternative energy sources. Several years later, Mr. Bortman was appointed to the Environmental Advisory Council for his local township in order to help develop environmental regulations and advise on green building initiatives. Today, Mr. Bortman and his team work to spread their knowledge about energy and build a more sustainable future for Pennsylvanians, one solar panel at a time.

As a progressive-minded business with unlimited potential, Exact Solar is an important resource that can help us meet state and federal goals of energy independence in years to come. From solar energy to the minimum wage, more businesses, like Exact Solar, realize the initial investment is the key. Investing in alternative energy sources, just like investing in workers, will bring endless returns in the future.