Opinion

A $15 minimum wage won’t make workers rich, but it might give them a chance

An image from the fight for 15 rally in September of 2017

Let’s start off today’s column with a simple math word problem.

If a person works 40 hours a week at a rate of $15 an hour before taxes makes $31,200 per year, what is the one fact we know about this person?

Answer: They’re struggling to get by.

I called my mom last night to make sure I got the facts and figures right because the memories of my preteen years can be a little hazy. Turns out I remembered more than I thought.

What I recalled was my mother dressed for the breakfast shift at a hotel with two neatly pressed uniforms on hangers in one hand and her purse and keys in the other. As she kissed me goodbye, I knew I wouldn’t see her again until the next day.

My mother supported our family and kept a roof over our heads by working three different jobs.

As a waitress, my mother made $2.13 per hour. That was 1995. At the end of each shift whether it was at the hotel or two shifts at Olive Garden (they ensured that she never worked more than 40 hours in a week to keep her from earning health insurance or other benefits. But hooray for unlimited salad and breadsticks!), she was to report to management what her tips were for the shift. Then, when it was time to get her paycheck the next week, it would read $0.00.

That’s right. She didn’t actually get a paycheck at all.

You see, after taxes, there was nothing left.

Sadly, that is not uncommon for servers in Pennsylvania either. Currently the tipped wage in Pennsylvania is just $2.38.

Just last week, with good intentions for a fourth year in a row, Governor Tom Wolf proposed a hike to Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to state legislators. At the federal level, Senator Bob Casey just co-sponsored the Raise the Wage Act. Both of these proposals eventually gets either Pennsylvania or the United States as a whole to a $15 minimum wage; not at once of course, over time, 2025 and 2024 respectively.

The Republicans in Harrisburg have basically told Wolf to go pound sand for the past four years, but there seems to be a little wiggle room this year to potentially get us to $12 per hour.

Although,I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The current proposals do not take into consideration that by the time any employees actually reach the $15 per hour rate, inflation will have already exceeded the added benefit of . . . wait for it … just getting your head above water. Don’t let anyone fool you, $15 an hour won’t put anyone on easy street.

Now, back to those in the tipped-wage industries; think about my mom. Here’s another simple math word problem.

A politician gets to choose between making $7.25 an hour or $2.38 an hour plus tips. Which do they choose?

Yeah, we all know the answer.

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