Preparing our Workforce for Higher Wage Jobs - By State Rep. Torren Ecker
2/15/2019
A very common issue I hear from constituents is the workforce needs of employers in Adams and Cumberland counties. Employers are starving for reliable workers and are willing to train new hires to give them the skills needed for the job. However, these opportunities will be diminished with a government-mandated wage hike.

I strongly support the development of higher paying jobs but forcing legislation to increase the minimum wage is an unnecessary and economically dangerous course of action. Pennsylvania is one of only 16 states that follows the federal minimum wage. I believe allowing the free market to set wage rates benefits both workers who are trying to support their families as well as employers that are struggling to control high labor costs.

This is supported by numbers released by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, nearly 98 percent of Pennsylvanians earn a wage higher than the minimum wage. The department’s statistics indicate there were more than 25 percent fewer workers being paid minimum wage in 2017 than in 2016. Given the workforce needs today, I anticipate that number to further decrease when reports are released in 2018. Pick up a newspaper’s classified section and you will see numerous entry-level positions in many industries starting well above minimum wage. As I drive throughout the district, I often pass billboards advertising entry-level positions paying far above the minimum wage with some paying more than $15 an hour together with benefits.

Minimum wage is meant to be a starter wage. It is often for young adults – students, first-time employees and workers looking to build new skills and quickly move on to higher paying positions. Nearly two in three minimum wage workers move to a higher paying wage within one year of beginning their position. When looking at the makeup of minimum wage earners, one misconception is that all of them are either single parents raising children or individuals coming from low socioeconomic households. In reality, 93 percent of these employees have zero children. Today, the most common minimum wage worker is someone working in a part-time role (72 percent of minimum wage workers) that has an education level of a high school diploma or less and is between the ages of 16-24 years old.

History shows that forcing businesses to pay higher wages leads to an overall decrease in demand for labor, as businesses are forced to find new ways to cut increased labor costs. Business leaders are forced to take measures like reducing hours for employees, decreasing the size of their workforce, or only hiring individuals with demonstrated levels of experience (and thus avoid individuals looking for entry-level positions). Companies have already begun automating and reducing their workforce by introducing self-ordering Kiosks in their restaurants.

As I consider legislation that will impact the workforce in our district and across Pennsylvania, my goal remains to help better prepare Pennsylvanians to have the tools, knowledge and skills that will lead them to higher earning careers. Nobody should be forced to spend years at a minimum wage job. We need to educate and support these low-wage earners to learn a skill or a trade that will provide them an opportunity to earn a family-sustaining wage. For this reason, I remain committed to workforce development initiatives in our community.

Representative Torren Ecker
193rd District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

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