The job market in Pennsylvania shrank across all sectors in 2020, rivaling record lows set during the Great Recession a decade earlier, according to a new report.
The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy analyzed state employer payroll data to measure the havoc wrought on the job market amid the pandemic and found that 59% of workers across the hospitality and service industry were laid off in April alone. That number rebounded, albeit slowly, as Gov. Tom Wolf lifted restrictions on dining, traveling and selling alcohol, but intermittent lockdowns targeting restaurants and bars shrank available jobs 30% again during the holiday season
In total, the industry lost 26% of its jobs compared to 2019.
The policy brief, published Thursday, recorded declines in all industries – from logging and mining to education to health care to transportation and utilities. All saw decreases in available jobs ranging from 2.63% to 8.5% compared to the year before.
‘Raising the minimum wage is a tone-deaf measure that will only exacerbate the job losses for this and other sectors that offer low-skilled labor the all-important entry into the workplace.’
Executive Director Frank Gamrat and President-emeritus Jake Haulk argued that the data shows Wolf’s budget priorities of raising the minimum wage and increasing the personal income tax rate would only make things worse.
“Raising the minimum wage is a tone-deaf measure that will only exacerbate the job losses for this and other sectors that offer low-skilled labor the all-important entry into the workplace,” Gamrat and Haulk said.
Wolf said last week that his proposal – which raises the rate to $12 on July 1 with a 50 cent annual increase until 2027 – would impact 1.1 million workers, many of whom struggle to survive on the current $7.25 minimum wage.
Three quarters of residents earning minimum wage are at least 20 years old, and 40% of them work full time, according to the administration. The policy also puts Pennsylvania on the same path as eight other states that agreed to raise the wage to $15 an hour over the next five years, Wolf said.
“Too many essential workers are earning poverty wages while putting themselves at risk to keep our society running,” he said. “They keep food on shelves, move crucial supplies, take care of our children, and support people with disabilities. And thousands of them earn poverty wages. These hardworking people deserve better. They deserve a living wage.”
‘Too many essential workers are earning poverty wages while putting themselves at risk to keep our society running.’
Pennsylvania last raised its minimum wage in 2009. In 2019, Republicans leaders in the Senate struck a deal with the administration to raise the rate to $9.50 by 2022, but it gained zero traction in the House.
The pandemic’s impact on the economy, however, means what support GOP lawmakers may have had for the concept is gone.
“Big box [stores] don’t care about personal income taxes,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte. “Big boxes don’t worry about raising costs like increasing the minimum wage. Small business does, and this would just be a devastating blow to the very businesses that are struggling the most in Pennsylvania.”
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.