Reposted from Women’s Law Project
Pennsylvania has become an island of poverty wages.
At $7.25 per hour, we have the lowest minimum wage allowed by federal law. A woman working full time for Pennsylvania’s minimum wage earns just $14,500 annually—
thousands of dollars below the poverty line for a mother supporting one or more children.
Our subminimum wage, sometimes called a tipped wage, is just $2.83 per hour. Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s tipped workers are women.
This week we once again called on the Pennsylvania Legislature to raise the wage. WLP’s Tara Murtha spoke at a press conference hosted by Raise the Wage PA and the Clear Coalition in front of the courthouse in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
Here are her remarks:
Minimum wage is a worker’s issue, but it is also a woman’s issue. Today, I am going to talk a bit about the subminimum wage, or tipped wage, which is $2.83 an hour.
Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s tipped workers are women. Of those workers, close to one in five live in poverty. That’s higher than the poverty rate for Pennsylvania men working for tips, and more than double the rate of working women overall.
If that’s not a compelling enough reason to eliminate the tipped wage, here’s another one: Sexual harassment.
With the #MeToo movement, we’ve been talking sexual harassment in Hollywood, politics, like the Pennsylvania Legislature, and tech industries, but in fact more sexual harassment claims come from restaurant industry than anywhere else.
No one who has worked in the restaurant industry needs statistics to know this is true. I worked in restaurants in Philadelphia fresh out of school. I could tell you many stories, but the one that I think about is when a grown man who, as I leaned over the table, pretended we were engaged in a sex act. A dozen grown businessmen at the table laughed, and I was humiliated.
I knew it was wrong of course, but I thought it was just the kind of behavior I had put up so I could pay my rent and student loans.
That is far from the worst story. The reality is when working for $2.83 an hour, the amount of money you can earn is too often a question of the amount of harassment you can withstand.
The “dignity of work” is a phrase some Pennsylvania lawmakers like to use often, usually while trying to cut Medicaid. So let’s talk more about the dignity of working in Pennsylvania.
The same lawmakers who have refused to raise the minimum wage haven’t bothered to fix loopholes in sexual harassment laws, so that not all Pennsylvania workers are covered by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
They haven’t bothered to update the state’s equal pay law since 1967. As a result, Pennsylvania has one the weakest equal pay laws in the nation – while just across the bridge in NJ, they are celebrating passing one of the strongest.
Now let’s think about when a Pennsylvania worker decides to become pregnant, something the Legislature seems particularly invested in, if we go by how much time they spend advancing unconstitutional abortion bans like SB3 and HB2050.
The same lawmakers who talk about the “dignity of work” haven’t bothered to pass basic workplace protections for pregnant workers in Pennsylvania, even though we are one of the worst 10 states in the country for pregnancy discrimination.
The same lawmakers who talk about the dignity of work and tell us they are so invested in promoting motherhood haven’t bothered to pass basic workplace protections for nursing mothers, even though Pennsylvania lags behind in breastfeeding goals set by public health experts, even though it would reduce infant mortality.
Of course, if she is a minimum wage worker, she is returning to work for what we know are poverty wages. And so the cycle continues.
It is time for our lawmakers to enable Pennsylvanians to actually find dignity in working in Pennsylvania, and not just talk about it.
It is time for one fair wage.
You can watch the entire press conference here.
Interested in advocating for raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania? You can download or read our fact sheet on minimum wage and working women in Pennsylvania here.