(The Center Square) — The blue wave of support for a higher minimum wage in Pennsylvania turned a slight shade of purple on Friday.
Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, said he wants to raise the rate from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2026 — and bind it to inflation “thereafter.”
“Due to the rising costs, workers are unable to pay for basic necessities and forced to rely on public assistance,” he said. “It is time we address the issue and I believe this bill is the most responsible way to approach it.”
Laughlin becomes the first Republican senator to cross the aisle in support of a $15 minimum wage, though he’s defected on the issue before. In 2021, he advocated for a $10 minimum wage that was ultimately too modest for Democrats, The Center Square previously reported.
Pennsylvania and 19 other states still offer minimum wages aligned with the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. The rest — including all the commonwealth’s neighbors — have increased pay to between $10 and $15.
That means, according to Laughlin, a minimum wage worker in Pennsylvania earns just $15,000 annually. His bill would first boost the rate to $11 in 2024 and raise the tipped wage from $2.83 to 40 percent of the minimum rate. So, when the minimum wage reaches $15 in 2026, a tipped worker would earn $6.
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Laughlin’s proposal aligns with both Senate and House Democrats — the latter of whom could leverage their one-seat majority to strike a deal, though it will be a heavy lift, The Center Square previously reported.
Federal data shows just under 64,000 residents make $7.25 or less an hour and nearly three-quarters of those include tipped workers. Another 418,000 make up to $12 an hour, and 510,000 earn between $12 and $15 per hour.
Further, the number of “at-or-below” workers declined more than 40 percent between 2017 and 2022 — largely due to the pandemic-induced labor shortage.
The Keystone Research Center said one in four workers would benefit from a $15 minimum wage, which would boost annual earnings by an average of $4,300.
Most of those workers, according to the center, include women between the ages of twenty and 39 and people of color, while eighteen percent are over the age of 55.
Critics of the policy argue that businesses will cut positions or reduce hours to cover the cost of wage mandates, erasing its economic benefits for workers. A recent analysis from the Independent Fiscal Office found that a $12 an hour rate could cost Pennsylvania 5,000 jobs.
Christen joins The Center Square as its Pennsylvania News Editor and brings with her more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues from all angles. She’s a Pennsylvania State University alumna and has been published in the The Washington Examiner, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, RealClear and Broad+Liberty, among others.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.