Talking minimum wage

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, center, talks with state Rep. Mike Carroll, left, state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski , right, and Michael Clemente, regional director, American Income Life — Simon Arias Agenices, Wilkes-Barre in Wilkes-Barre last month. In March, as part of his “Jobs That Pay” initiative, Gov. Wolf signed an executive order that ensures employees under the governor’s jurisdiction will be paid no less than $10.15 an hour. Wolf is now calling upon Pennsylvania legislators to pass a minimum wage increase for all Pennsylvania workers. 

Pennsylvania could be the next state looking to raise its minimum wage requirements.

On March 7, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order which will ensure all employees under government jurisdiction will be paid a minimum $10.15 an hour.

Wolf and some Democrats statewide are looking to expand the increase to across the state as part of Wolf's "Jobs that Pay" initiative. As of now, the executive order will take effect after July 1, and if spread across all Pennsylvania employers, could rack up state revenue by about $60 million a year, according to the governor's press release.

BUSINESS VIEWS

According to Dr. Daniel Fischmar, professor of business and economics at Westminster College, raising the minimum wage carries both positive and negative effects.

"Generally, the impact of raising the minimum wage is beneficial in that it divides the degree of wages and increases disposable income," he said.

On the other hand, Fischmar said, an increase can present workforce challenges, the idea being that these low-income workers will then have to carry greater responsibility and skill levels.

"Unskilled workers could miss out if employers aren't ready to commit to them," he said.

Joe Seminara is president and founder of Pizza Joe's. Seminara's business has 43 locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio and is continuing to grow. He agrees that an increase would present a "two-way street" for employers and employees.

"I'm all for people making money to live on," he said. "And on the employees' end, they need to be able to say 'I have to give a worthy effort,'" he said.

Seminara believes if the state legislature does decide to expand the increase to all of the state's low-income employees, local businesses will be able to adapt.

"I don't think we have control over it," he said. "Last time though, we didn't notice."

Currently, Pennsylvania adheres to the federal minimum wage requirements — $7.25 per hour or $2.83 per hour if an employee receives more than $30 a month in tips.

LAWMAKERS' OPINIONS

"It has been over a decade since the federal wage has changed," Rep. Jaret Gibbons said.

Gibbons believes that the time to increase the minimum wage is overdue, especially given the higher minimums of bordering states Ohio, at $8.10 an hour and West Virginia, at $8.75 an hour.

"It's time to look at what would be reasonable," Gibbons said. "We have to look at what other states are doing."

With Ohio bordering so closely with Lawrence and neighboring counties, Gibbons says a common concern among western Pennsylvania workers is competitive business. According to the representative, he has seen no sizable wave of new businesses moving to Pennsylvania to take advantage of the lower minimum rate, so he doesn't see competition with Ohio businesses as a vital concern.

Rep. Chris Sainato agrees that the rates should be increased, but incrementally and at the national level. He said he believes that increasing the federal minimum wage would best maintain the integrity of competitive businesses.

"I would support a small increase, but you have to be careful because we have close borders," he said.

Sainato pointed out that some larger corporations have independently taken the initiative to require a higher minimum wage for their employees, mentioning that Wal-Mart has recently required its low-wage workers earn $10 an hour as of Feb. 20 of this year.

"The fact is we have a lot of mom-and-pop shops in our area; we have to be sensitive to that," Sainato said. "I want to see everyone make a lot of money, but I don't want to see any people lose hours or their jobs."

Dr. Fischmar provides a different solution that he believes to be popular among economists: improving the earned income tax credit system. He says attention to this incentive could equal the footing of businesses of all sizes without all responsibility falling on employers.

"Currently, it's supplemental," he said, "but could benefit all low-income earners nationwide. It could be an even better way."

(Email: rsapienza@ncnewsonline.com)

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