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Report Calls for Big Boost in Minimum Wage

Many workers who depend on tips say they experience increased levels of sexual harassment. (Pixabay)
Many workers who depend on tips say they experience increased levels of sexual harassment. (Pixabay)
April 16, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A new report calls for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour to reduce poverty and promote pay equity.

The minimum wage in 21 states, including Pennsylvania, is still $7.25 an hour. Since the current federal minimum wage went into effect nine years ago, it has lost 13 percent of its value - and the minimum wage for workers who earn tips has stayed at $2.13 an hour since 1991.

Emily Chatterjee, senior counsel at the Leadership Conference Education Fund, said raising the wage would do more than help lift people out of poverty.

"It would address the gender pay gap, because women are over-represented in this workforce,” Chatterjee said. “It would also help address the racial wealth gap, because people of color are also over-represented here."

The report - entitled "Bare Minimum: Why We Need to Raise Wages for America's Lowest-Paid Families" - includes firsthand accounts of low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet.

Chatterjee pointed out that people working for tips are twice as likely to live in poverty, and two-thirds of them are women. And she added that poverty isn't the only result.

"Tipped workers' livelihood shouldn't depend on whether a customer feels like being generous that day. There's a power imbalance there,” she said. “In fact, a lot of tipped workers face increased levels of sexual harassment as a result of that."

Chatterjee said the report makes a case for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 as one of four steps to effectively fight poverty and wage inequality.

"We want to index it to inflation, so that the value of the minimum wage doesn't erode over time,” Chatterjee said. “We also want to eliminate the tip minimum wage, and we want to eliminate the sub-minimum wage that some people with disabilities are paid."

Across the country, 58 million workers are paid less than $15 an hour. That's more than half the American workforce.

Andrea Sears/Roz Brown, Public News Service - PA