Casey touts need for wage hike as Pa. economy lags

01.22.14 | Bob Price

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey doesn’t accept the argument that raising the minimum wage will dampen job growth.

The Scranton Democrat has reiterated his support for increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation, a step he says would provide a boost for 700,000 Pennsylvania workers at a time of continued poverty and growing income inequality across the state.

“If anything, I think it’s a job-booster,” Casey said in remarks to reporters intended to highlight state and national economic trends the senator is promoting in advance of Tuesday’s State of the Union address by President Barack Obama.

“Part of the reason it’s a boost for jobs is that you’ll have less turnover,” Casey said in explaining why he believes a higher minimum wage will provide more stability both for workers and employers.

The federal minimum wage has stood at $7.25 since 2009.

Casey is a co-sponsor of a Senate minimum wage bill introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, under which the rate would reach $10.10 per hour, in three 95-cent increments, within two years of passage.

The senator pointed to research by Senate Democrats suggesting that the purchasing power of today’s minimum wage is less than that in 1968, and that the proposed increase would lift 4.6 million Americans out of poverty.

Casey admitted it’s too soon to say how a vote on the measure will turn out, but does expect a vote sometime this year.

Whatever debate on the minimum wage bill might bring, Casey stressed that U.S. Census figures give a clear indication that the nation’s economic recovery has yet to be felt in all corners of Pennsylvania, including Luzerne County, where poverty rates still hover in the double-digits and income inequality continues to grow.

According to statistics provided by Casey, the county is squarely among those regions that have continued to suffer since the recession technically ended:

• Median income is lower here than the state’s, $42,244 vs. $51,225.

• There is higher percentage of people without a high school diploma, 12.2 percent vs. 11.7 percent statewide.

• Luzerne County’s poverty rate stood at 15.6 percent vs. 13.3 percent statewide.

Casey called on Congress to focus on closing the income gap in the new year by extending unemployment insurance and investing in early education.

He also noted his efforts to promote a bipartisan jobs bill that will help businesses grow and create jobs through targeted tax relief. Co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that bill includes provisions to aid startup businesses and help existing companies make capital improvements.

Casey said the legislation would enable businesses to have consistent knowledge of deduction rates, rather than trying to plan around allowances that can vary from year to year.