Where Pennsylvania Low-Wage Workers Live

Authors: 
Stephen Herzenberg
Publication Date: 
December 1, 2005
Attachment: 
Attachment: 
Attachment: 
Attachment: 

In recent debates about a proposed increase in the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 per hour, some observers have claimed that only a few workers currently earn the minimum wage. The implication of such assertions is that the proposed increase will neither benefit many workers nor make much difference in the lives of Pennsylvania families, and so raising the minimum wage need not be a priority for the Commonwealth.

This revised Briefing Paper addresses the debate about the need for raising the minimum wage by estimating the number of low-wage workers in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties who would benefit from a minimum wage hike to $7.15 in January 2007.

For the sake of analysis, workers who would gain are divided into two groups:

1) those directly benefiting, who are projected to earn between $5.15 and $7.15 per hour at the time of implementation; and

2) those indirectly benefiting, who are projected to earn between $7.15 and $8.15 per hour. This second group benefits indirectly because its employers seek to pay somewhat above the minimum wage to attract and retain higher quality workers. Once the minimum wage increases, these above-minimum wage employers will likely also increase wages so that they still pay somewhat above the new minimum.

KRC’s estimates of the number of workers by county who would benefit directly from a minimum wage increase to $7.15 are very similar to those published by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The Department has not estimated the number of workers by county who would benefit indirectly.

In Pennsylvania as a whole, our analysis indicates that an estimated total of 754,000 workers would benefit from a minimum wage increase to $7.15 per hour, including 427,000 workers who would benefit directly and 327,000 who would benefit indirectly.

In the context of the Pennsylvania labor market 754,000 workers can hardly be considered “a few” workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number is larger than the number of Pennsylvanians employed in October 2005 in all of manufacturing (675,600), and in professional and business services (651,800), and about the same as the number employed in government (756,200).

The numbers of workers by county who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage are shown in Table 1, Table 2, and Table 3. The data in the tables make clear that

  • The state’s most populous counties, which also have the most jobs, have the largest number of low-wage workers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase.

Allegheny County has more than 45,000 workers who would benefit directly and another roughly 33,000 who would benefit indirectly.

Philadelphia County also has over 40,000 workers who would benefit directly and another 33,000 who would benefit indirectly.

  • The counties in which the largest share of workers would benefit are low-wage rural counties.

    In 10 counties — Armstrong, Fayette, Huntingdon, Jefferson, Juniata, Perry, Pike, Somerset, Sullivan, and Susquehanna — 15 percent or more workers would directly benefit from the proposed minimum wage increase (Table 1).

    In 35 counties spanning Pennsylvania’s rural region, one in five or more workers would benefit directly or indirectly from a minimum wage increase.

The counties in which the smallest share of workers would benefit are high-wage suburban counties. In Bucks, Chester and Montgomery Counties in the suburbs of Philadelphia, for example, fewer than one in 10 workers would benefit directly or indirectly (Table 3).

In conclusion, while many wages have risen substantially above the current minimum wage during the eight years since it was last increased, the minimum wage remains a powerful instrument for making work pay closer to a family-sustaining wage. An increase in the minimum wage to $7.15 per hour would matter to a great many of Pennsylvania’s hard working low-wage workers.

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 www.keystoneresearch.org © 2001 Keystone Research Center