Pennsylvania’s women and families deserve a raise

By state Reps. Margo Davidson and Ed Gainey

When most Americans think about what they want for their families, they think about things like a brighter future for their kids, putting food on the table, and being home in time to have a family meal. Yet for many Pennsylvania parents, those basic goals are becoming harder and harder to attain. As everything from groceries to health care to housing becomes more expensive, families’ incomes stay the same. That’s why we must put families first.

We are supposed to have a government of, by, and for the people, yet the conservatives in Congress just ignored the needs of working families and passed a tax scam that lined the pockets of the super-rich. They gave away trillions of dollars in revenue that should have been used to watch out for children and seniors, modernize our public schools and create good jobs and better wages.

That means we as state legislators have to fight even harder for working families. In the Pennsylvania General Assembly, we can take two steps right now to boost family paychecks and ensure more working families can earn a good life: raise the minimum wage and ensure women earn equal pay for equal work. The issues of equal pay, the minimum wage, and earning a spot in the middle class are intertwined. Women are the head of household in over a half-million households in Pennsylvania, and women make up nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers. Anyone who has tried to pay their bills while earning $7.25 an hour knows the minimum wage falls far short of what it takes make basic ends meet.

On top of that, women in Pennsylvania earn just 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. For women of color, it’s even worse. African-American women are paid just 68 cents and Latina women 56 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Eliminating this wage gap would provide much-needed income for working families, helping them to make ends meet and create better futures for their children. If the annual wage gap were eliminated, on average, a working woman in Pennsylvania would have enough money for approximately 80 more weeks of food for her family, eight more months of mortgage and utilities payments, or more than 12 additional months of rent.

This week, we are joining progressive state legislators from across the country who are fighting to boost family paychecks. In Pennsylvania, our legislation to strengthen the state Equal Pay Act and to raise the minimum wage will do just that.

The Equal Pay Act hasn’t been updated since 1967, when it was actually amended to apply to fewer people. It’s time we put in place the solutions that we know will help stop pay from being taken from women. This year’s Equal Pay Act would put in place protections for women’s right to discuss wages with co-workers; prevent employers from discriminating against employees based on prior income history; and ensure employers have an equal pay policy on the books. Together, these policies will help ensure women and people of color earn the pay they deserve.

Meanwhile, all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states—New York, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware—have raised the minimum wage above $8 an hour, while our state lags behind at the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. That’s a shameful fact that is keeping our families behind. House Bill 1520, sponsored by Rep. Patty Kim, would raise our state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. No one who works 40 hours a week should be forced to live in poverty – and raising the minimum wage would ensure more working families can make ends meet. For example, according to the Economic Policy Institute, increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 would give one-third of all working women a raise—and that includes over 37 percent of working women of color.

Working families shouldn’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. Please join us in supporting the Equal Pay Act and House Bill 1520 this legislative session to give Pennsylvania’s women and families a raise. We must put families first!

State Rep. Ed Gainey represents the 24th Legislative District in Allegheny County and state Rep. Margo Davidson represents the 164th Legislative District in Delaware County.