Pennsylvania is one of the few states that still adheres to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which has not changed since 2009. However, in June 2023, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $11 per hour by January 1, 2024, and gradually to $15 per hour by 2026. The bill was supported by Governor Tom Wolf, who said that raising the minimum wage would help millions of workers and boost the economy.
However, the bill faced strong opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate, which argued that increasing the minimum wage would hurt small businesses and lead to job losses. The bill was never brought to a vote in the Senate, and the legislative session ended without any action on the minimum wage issue.
The Impact of the Minimum Wage Hike on Health Care Workers
Despite the lack of state action, some employers in Pennsylvania decided to voluntarily raise their minimum wages in 2024, following the example of neighboring states like New Jersey and Maryland, which have already enacted laws to reach $15 per hour in the next few years. One of the sectors that saw the most significant wage increases was health care, where many workers, especially home health aides and personal care assistants, earn low wages and face high turnover rates.
However, the wage hike also had unintended consequences for the health care industry, which was already struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the aging population. According to a report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a trade group representing long-term care providers, the minimum wage increase resulted in massive layoffs and reduced hours for health care workers, as well as higher costs and lower quality of care for patients.
The report estimated that the minimum wage hike would cost the long-term care sector an additional $1.6 billion in 2024, and $4.5 billion by 2026, without any corresponding increase in reimbursement rates from the state or federal government. The report also claimed that the wage hike would force many providers to close their facilities or reduce their services, leaving thousands of seniors and disabled people without access to adequate care.
The report cited several examples of providers who had to lay off workers or cut back on hours due to the wage hike, such as:
- A nursing home in Philadelphia that laid off 15% of its staff and reduced the hours of another 10%, resulting in less time for resident care and increased use of agency staff.
- A home health agency in Pittsburgh that laid off 20% of its aides and reduced the hours of another 30%, leaving many clients without reliable care and forcing some to move to nursing homes.
- A personal care home in Harrisburg that laid off 10% of its staff and reduced the hours of another 15%, leading to lower quality of care and increased complaints from residents and families.
The Response of the Health Care Workers and Advocates
The layoffs and cutbacks in the health care sector sparked outrage and protests from the affected workers and their advocates, who argued that the wage hike was necessary and beneficial for both the workers and the patients. They claimed that the report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Association was biased and exaggerated, and that the real problem was the underfunding and mismanagement of the long-term care system.
The workers and advocates also pointed out that raising the minimum wage would improve the living standards and morale of the workers, reduce turnover and absenteeism, and attract more qualified and dedicated staff to the health care field. They also said that raising the minimum wage would have positive spillover effects on the economy, as the workers would spend more money on goods and services, creating more jobs and tax revenue.
The workers and advocates called on the state and federal government to increase the funding and reimbursement rates for the long-term care sector, and to provide more support and oversight for the providers. They also urged the Senate to pass the minimum wage bill that was approved by the House, and to ensure that all workers in Pennsylvania receive a fair and living wage.
The minimum wage hike in Pennsylvania in 2024 was a controversial and divisive issue, with different stakeholders having different perspectives and interests. The health care sector was one of the most affected by the wage hike, as it faced both opportunities and challenges. The wage hike improved the income and dignity of many health care workers, but also led to layoffs and reduced hours for others, as well as higher costs and lower quality of care for patients. The wage hike also exposed the underlying problems and needs of the long-term care system, which required more attention and resources from the government and the society. The debate over the minimum wage hike was not only about economics, but also about ethics and values.