Note: Sunday, September 9, 2012, State College, PA 5:57 PM, EDT. My friend Philip Moery is fond of quoting William Faulkner’s observation, “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” This observation became trenchant yesterday when I received a post from Scott W., who, like me, is a member of a lively discussion group on politics. Scott W. sent group members an article for comment entitled, “Why the Minimum Wage Doesn’t Explain Stagnant Wages.”
As it turns out, I have a part-time job at Penn State‘s virtual reality laboratory for the construction industry where I am paid a minimum wage out of funds provided by Experience Works, a U.S. Department of Labor program for disabled and elderly individuals.
As my sister Sarah Schmerler points out, brevity is not my strong suit. I will delay additional comments on the subject until you have the opportunity to read the story which appeared on page one–indeed the event taking place on a slow July news day, it was not only an above-the-fold front page story, it was the lead story in the Centre Daily Times published in State CollegePA. The occasion was the increase in July 2009 to $7.25 cents an hour. Reporter Nick Malawskey asked me how I felt about earning an additional 10 cents an hour. Below is the story as published.
While interviewing me, I told Nick about that marvelous song, “7 1/2 cents” from the musical comedy The Pajama Game.The Pajama Game, which first appeared on Broadway in 1954 and became a Doris-Day-starring movie in 1957–a movie I vividly remember but understandably before Nick’s time. After the article appeared, I emailed Nick the MP3 of “7 1/2 cents” which I had purchased on iTunes, but sadly the Centre Daily Times’ email system limited the bandwidth of emails to reporters. What with one thing and another, Nick never had the opportunity to hear the song.
The following is the lead story that appeared on Friday, July 24, 2009 of the Centre Daily Times (known locally as “The CDT“). Readers are encouraged to subscribe to the hard-copy version of the CDT not only to learn when, if ever, I receive another 10-cent an hour increase in pay. Also, the CDT has been covering in detail the aftermath of the child molestation scandal at Penn State, the largest employer in the county. This scandal has thus far hit Centre County with greater force than a 9.o earthquake on the Richter Magnitude Scale.
After the article, see Afternote.
Friday, Jul. 24, 2009
Workers praise 10 cent increase
STATE COLLEGE — While most companies are scaling back on annual raises this year, about 15 million Americans will receive at least a small bump in pay today when the federal minimum wage increases to $7.25 an hour.
In Pennsylvania, the wage increase will amount to only 10 cents an hour for the roughly 200,000 people who earn the standard. That’s because Pennsylvania raised its minimum wage above the federal standard to $7.15 per hour two years ago.
But those living on the margin say every little bit helps.
In Centre County, the region’s largest employer — Penn State — said the increase will affect about 240 of its part-time workers.
They include Joel Solkoff, who works part-time at the university through Experience Works, an employment training program for older or disabled Pennsylvanians.
“I guess there are two sides to it,” said Solkoff, a 61-year-old technical writer. “One is that any increase in income, especially if you make as little as I do, is appreciated.”
Solkoff, who is disabled, uses his monthly earning to supplement his Social Security income while building skills he hopes will land him a permanent job.
“The other aspect of it is that one hopes that the work that you’re doing will be appreciated,” he said. “And the encouragement that comes from getting a little more money in your paycheck is very much appreciated. It serves as an inducement for me to continue doing this, so I can get out in the marketplace and find a job that gets me off Social Security.”
Penn State said the wage hike will increase the university system’s payroll costs by only about $15,000 a year.
Relatively few county workers are affected, with most convenience and retail stores reporting they already pay workers more than the minimum wage. The county’s second largest employer, the State College Area School District, said none of its 1,100-plus workers will be affected.
Still, not everyone welcomes the increase.
“Wage hikes always cause a spike in the unemployment rate, and with the country in the middle of a recession, businesses are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Kristen Lopez Eastlick, a senior research analyst at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C. “The economy will continue to hemorrhage entry-level jobs unless legislators stop this summer’s minimum wage hike from happening.”
Despite the increases, the federal minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation.
David Passmore, with Penn State’s Workforce Education and Development program, said the gap between average and minimum wage pay of nonsupervisory workers has grown remarkably since the 1970s.
“When you take in the erosion of purchasing power through inflation, the so-called ‘real’ minimum wage has declined by one-third since 1968,” he said in an e-mail.
Passmore said the effects of an increase in the minimum wage are often complex.
“In Pennsylvania, it is estimated that 8.9 percent of the workforce were affected by a minimum wage increase in 2009 amounting to 7.8 percent of wages,” he wrote. “At the same time, the minimum wage increase is estimated to have brought about an 0.37 percent increase in production costs (fuel, capital, labor) and a 0.25 percent decrease in Pennsylvania employment.”
Solkoff has a different perspective.
“Minimum wage is supposed to guarantee that those people on the lowest part of the ladder will be given a wage that is minimally fair — high enough to support life and so on,” he said, adding that in his case, it will help pay the rent, buy a few extra cups of coffee at Webster’s — and, he said, help support the economy.
“That’s going to be economic stimulus money that I will be helping the economy out with,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not saving that 10 cents.”
Nick Malawskey can bereached at 235-3928.
Afternote: During the Carter Administration (where I earned considerably more than minimum wage), I served as Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown for whom I wrote several speeches on the minimum wage. Jimmy Carter would never have been elected President without the support of George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO. For those who remember the power of organized labor to affect national policy, George Meany remains sui generis. In writing about the minimum wage, I was loyal to Meany’s insistence on the significance of the minimum wage in preserving a floor for a national standard of living and for defending other legislation such as the Davis-Bacon Act providing a more-livable “prevailing wage” which helped women and men working on federally funded projects become members of the middle-class as a result of their hard work. [Permission to use Time Magazine’s marvelous cover is requested.]
Even with the best of intentions, Walter Shapiro, whom last I heard was a columnist for USA Today, originally brought me in to the Labor Department to write a minimum wage speech for Secretary Ray Marshall. With the assistance of Tom Connoly, my drumming instructor, who also is helping me organize my files, I plan to locate the speech Walter and I wrote on the minimum wage which resulted in unanticipated consequences. Don’t leave this site; a copy of the speech with a story to go with it will be coming soon.