State of Working Pennsylvania 1999

Howard Wial
Publication Date: 
September 1, 1999


The strong economy of the last few years has finally produced modest wage gains for middle-class Pennsylvania workers. Helped by recent increases in the minimum wage, it has also made low-wage earners better off and narrowed the gap between high- and low-wage
workers. But despite this progress, the wages of Pennsylvania’s middle class and working poor have not yet caught up to their 1979 levels, the gap between rich and poor remains much wider than in 1979, and not all workers have shared in recent prosperity.

· In 1998, Pennsylvania workers earned 2.2 percent more than they did in 1997 and 2.5 percent more than in 1989, but 4 percent less than in 1979.

· The wages of Pennsylvania men stood still between 1997 and 1998, have not quite reached their 1989 level, and remain $1.81 per hour below their 1979 level.

· African American men and men without a high school diploma remain much worse off than in 1989 and make over $3 per hour less than in 1979.

· Low-wage workers earned 3.6 percent more in 1998 than they did in 1997 and 3.2 percent more than in 1989, but 12.1 percent less than in 1979.

· The 2.5 percent increase in Pennsylvania wages from 1989 to 1998 is only about one-fifth of the 12 percent increase in labor productivity over the same period.

· The wages of child care and low-paid health care workers, which depend partly on state and federal government funding, continued to fall even as the wages of other low-wage workers rose. In 1998, child care workers earned $6.25 per hour, 4.9 percent less than in 1989. Nurses’ aides, orderlies, and attendants earned $8.05 per hour, 2.3 percent less than in 1989.

To lock in recent wage gains and distribute the state’s prosperity more broadly, Pennsylvania should

· raise its minimum wage above the federal level,

· enact state and local living wage laws for employees of businesses and social service providers that receive public funds, and

· support the right of workers to organize labor unions.