Plymouth residents Jennifer and Francis Cardamone have worked hard to provide for their family and yet they say they are still struggling.
Jennifer, 35, a cosmetologist, said her minimum wage income simply “doesn’t cut it” when raising two daughters, 7 and 2.
Their family’s financial situation grew even more precarious when Francis, 39, lost his job delivering furniture last August, after holding the position for 10 years, because of damage to furniture during delivery.
“He was able to collect unemployment,” she said. “But it wasn’t the same.”
And although Francis is now working treading tires for $11 an hour, neither can afford health insurance.
The Cardamones can look to California and New York for hope, with the governors of both states signing legislation earlier this month that will push the minimum wage in those states to $15 per hour.
Proponents say the move has reignited a debate regarding the possibility of working toward legislation on both the state and federal levels that may put more money in the pockets of those making minimum wage.
John Dodds, of the Raise the Wage Pennsylvania Coalition, thinks it is a conversation long overdue and stalled by political posturing.
Dodds believes the solutions are simple: Raise the minimum wage, increase the tax base, make life better for residents of the state.
Would it help or hurt?
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, disagrees. He believes an increase in the minimum wage will put the jobs of the most vulnerable at risk.
“It will hit people who have fewer skills and younger workers the hardest — the very people who most need an opportunity to get into the workforce, get their first job, and start their way up the economic ladder,” he said in an email.
In response, Dodds points to 2007, when the minimum wage was increased.
“The economy remained strong and people continued to be hired,” he said.
An increase, he said, would help hundreds of thousands of working poor.
“Not only would an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 benefit individuals, it would also help fund the 2016-17 state budget,” he said.
A way off assistance
Even though Jennifer’s income is supplemented by tips she receives, healthcare for her and Francis is not an option.
“We make health insurance for our children a priority and we buy it through the marketplace,” she said. “If we bought health insurance for ourselves, that would take a good chunk of our paycheck.”
The Cardamones say they did not have to pay a penalty for being uninsured this year because they had medical assistance through the end of 2015.
She believes that if the minimum wage was increased, parents would have an opportunity to raise their families without relying on government assistance.
According to Dodds, the Keystone Research Center has estimated that the increase in wages would generate $121.5 million though income and sales taxes.
“We can help better the lives of 1.2 million low-wage workers who have gone without a state increase in the minimum wage since 2007,” said Dodds, who believes Republican leadership is blocking legislation and preventing a vote on the issue.
Still no consensus
In response, state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, who chairs the Labor and Industry Committee, said in an email to the Times Leader that the committee had heard a wide range of testimony from which no consensus has emerged.
Baker noted the protracted budget deadlock during the past year complicated “every issue that has funding implications and economic impact attached to it.”
Baker commended both sides for their passion on the issue.
“An arbitrary hourly number applied across the board is probably not the way to go,” she said, addressing Gov. Tom Wolf’s support of the increase in the minimum wage.
“Recently, some major private employers have moved on increasing wage levels, an indication that public pressure can make a lot of difference,” she said. “This seems preferable to a broad and inflexible mandate from the state government.”
Dave Carey, director of Northeastern Pennsylvania branches of the AFL-CIO labor federations, said the issue needs to be moved forward in the legislature.
He believes the present system benefits affluent Americans who comprise the top 1 percent.
Carey said history has shown that “trickle-down economics,” predicated on the belief that prosperous corporations will mean prosperous Americans, simply doesn’t work.
“Allowing hard-working people to struggle doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make workers more productive,” he said. “Happy workers are good workers.”
Federally, President Barack Obama has consistently supported an increase in the minimum wage.
“Nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages,” Obama said in his 2015 State of the Union address. “To everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it.
“If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”
A ‘complicated issue’
Fred Croop, dean of the College of Professional Studies and Social Studies at Misericordia University, said the issue of raising the minimum wage is a complicated one, although agreeing that improving the finances of Pennsylvanians is important.
“With small business doing much of the hiring, the questions would be if those businesses would continue to hire young people for those entry level positions,” he said.
Croop, a certified public accountant, said there are many pragmatic concerns that enter into the equation.
Coming upon the conclusion of tax season, he said, many parents are able to take advantage of the earned income credit, a tax credit that provides additional income for workers who earn below a certain amount.
Croop said he would hope that legislation would be drafted taking into consideration the concerns of and tax ramifications for small businesses and young workers.
In the long term, Croop said he is optimistic.
“It might be six months or six years,” he said. “But these things tend to correct themselves.”