The State of Working Pennsylvania 2000

David Bradley
Stephen Herzenberg
Publication Date: 
September 1, 2000



The State of Working Pennsylvania 2000 is the Keystone Research Center’s fifth annual survey of the economic condition of working Pennsylvanians and their families. This summary briefly outlines the study’s most significant findings.

Most Workers Have Modest Income Growth

Data from 1999 indicate that, since 1995, more Pennsylvania workers were earning more as the result of the longest U.S. economic expansion on record.

  • Inflation adjusted wages increased for a fourth year in a row, from an average of $11.30 in 1995 to average of $11.96 in 1999 (table 1).
  • Pennsylvania’s lowest-wage workers (those earning more than 10 and less than 90 percent of all workers) shared in wage growth: they earned an average of $6.05 in 1999, 42 cents more an hour than they did in 1995 (table 4).
  • The wages of men and women rose nearly equally, by 5.6 and 5.1 percent respectively.
  • More Pennsylvanians were employed than at any time since the mid-1960s.

Viewed in a broader historical context, however, it is clear that the gains made by Pennsylvanians during the boom of the late 90s were modest.

  • In 1999 the median wage in Pennsylvania, adjusted for inflation, was still less than it was in 1979 (table 1).
  • In 1999 one in four Pennsylvania workers held a poverty-wage job, up from one in five in 1979.

Recent wage gains in Pennsylvania did not close the gap between high-wage and low-wage workers as happened in the U.S. as a whole in the last half of the 1990s. Income inequality continues to increase in Pennsylvania. Half of the gains in income in the 1990s went to the top 5 percent of families (table 5).

Gains Not Shared By All Regions or Workers

The data from 1999 also suggest that the fortunes of many workers and regions of the state have actually declined.


  • Those without a college degree, men and women alike, earned less than they did in 1995 (table 3).
  • All but the best paid workers in Pennsylvanians major cities earned less than they did in 1989.
  • The wages of rural workers have declined since 1995, as have the wages of workers in metro Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh area workers earned $2.26 less per hour in 1999 than in 1979 (table 9).
  • Black men in Pennsylvania earned almost $1 less per hour in 1999 than they did in 1995, and $3.50 less than they did in 1979. In the U.S. as a whole, black men earned 81 cents more an hour in 1999 than in 1995 (table 2).
  • In 1998 one in five and a half of Pennsylvania’s children, or 526,000, live in poverty, a 50 percent increase in the poverty rate for children since 1979.

Overall, the last four years of economic growth have been an improvement over the last 16. When one looks past statewide aggregate measures of economic progress, however, it is clear that the benefits of prosperity have not been broadly shared across the Commonwealth.

For many working Pennsylvanians it remains an open question whether a return to pre-1979 standards of living is likely or even possible.

This document is an on-line summary of a Keystone Research Center report. The entire report is available for download as a PDF file at the KRC Web site © 2001 Keystone Research Center