Pennsylvania Democrats Want Prisoners Included In Minimum Wage Hike

A Pennsylvania state correctional-facility inmate can expect to earn between $0.23 and $0.50 per hour  at his prison job — not counting free room and board. Sixteen Pennsylvania House Democrats now want the state government that feeds and shelters these prisoners to pay them $21 an hour for their work. 

Led by Representative Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia), these lawmakers are spearheading legislation to dramatically increase the state minimum wage and apply the new rate to prisoners. 

“All work has dignity,” Rabb wrote in a memorandum asking colleagues to cosponsor the bill. “And there is no excuse for allowing a poverty wage in our commonwealth. Pennsylvania needs one fair wage as an equitable entry-point to our vibrant workforce.”

The measure would hike the Keystone State’s current $7.25-per-hour wage floor to $16.50 beginning in July 2025, to $18 one year later, to $19.50 in mid-2027 and to $21 in July 2028. The legislation would then tie future minimum-wage increases to inflation. Enactment would also end Pennsylvania’s tipped minimum wage of $2.83. 

Rabb’s bill was referred to the House of Representatives Labor and Industry Committee last week. He introduced similar legislation during the prior session when Republicans controlled his chamber but the bill did not receive a committee vote. While his policy could have better luck this session — his party will retain its one-seat majority if it wins a special election to replace Delaware County-area Representative Mike Zabel who resigned in disgrace — Republicans promise to fight it vehemently.

“Not only are House Democrats making it harder to do business in Pennsylvania by increasing the mandated wage to $21 per hour,” House Republican Spokesperson Jason Gottesman said in a statement, “but Pennsylvania House Democrats want to provide that wage to the most dangerous incarcerated individuals in Pennsylvania, including violent criminals, rapists, cop killers and child molesters…. While they may be the new majority, Pennsylvania’s House Democrats should instead drive an agenda for all Pennsylvanians. Not special interests, and certainly not for violent criminals.”

While the GOP-run Senate won’t likely take up Rabb’s bill, Senate Republican Policy Chair Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) proposed a bill last month to gradually raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2026 and index it to inflation thereafter. While free-market advocates in Harrisburg generally doubt the economic wisdom of raising the wage floor, some anticipate the Laughlin bill could pass as part of a bipartisan deal that also includes regulatory reform.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Chris Rabb” by Pennsylvania House of Representatives.


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