A stream of students, professors and fast-food workers, among others donned matching red T-shirts as they marched through Main Campus two weeks ago to address President Theobald at a Board of Trustees meeting.
These marchers were part of a protest organized by Temple’s chapter of 15 Now, a national organization that fights to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The group of students had been trying to schedule a meeting with Theobald to discuss raising the wages of Temple workers.
This call for action on campus echoes the concerns of Philadelphia’s chapter of 15 Now and other organizations in the city, like Fight for 15 that are currently working to increase the citywide minimum wage.
While $7.25 an hour is the federally mandated minimum wage in the U.S., it is not enough for families to survive on, especially in a city like Philadelphia. It is not a living wage. In the U.S., we need to start taking better care of our working class families.
Why isn’t Philadelphia’s government taking care of its people?
Each state can increase the minimum wage for workers in its state if it so chooses. For example, Illinois’ minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, Washington’s is $9.47 an hour, and in July, New York approved a raise for fast-food workers to $15 an hour.
States and local governments have a similar relationship in that the state minimum wage must prevail throughout the entirety of that state, but localities can raise their minimum wage to a higher rate. Seattle’s City Council recently voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next few years.
While other large cities throughout the country have taken notice and raised their minimum wage, Philadelphia has remained behind the curve.
Philadelphia’s minimum wage for individuals working for city contractors is $12 an hour, as of last January, and while this increase is a step in the right direction, the city is not keeping pace with other large cities, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and now New York City.
As for the rest of Philadelphia, the federal minimum wage remains stagnant at $7.25 an hour. This stagnation is a problem, especially when taking into account the deep poverty that resides in many parts of the city.
Philly.com called our city “the poorest big city in America” in a 2014 report.
And it’s not so hard to see why Philadelphia is so poor. Just take a look at the numbers:
According to the Living Wage Calculator, which calculates how much a person must make to support themselves based on the city’s average living expenses, a living wage is $23.39 an hour for a single parent and single child household in Philadelphia. Even if this parent is making $12 an hour under a city contractor, that only accounts for about half their living wage.
The poverty wage for this same family size is $7 an hour, according to the calculator. Now remember, our minimum wage in Philadelphia for everyone else is $7.25 an hour, just a quarter above the poverty line for this family type.
And with the breakdown of the nuclear family across the U.S., this family type is not unlikely. Perhaps, keep the single parent, but add another child or two.
Philadelphia needs to increase its minimum wage to help families survive. An increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour would help account for inflation and rises in the cost of living.
Kate Goodman, a volunteer organizer at Philadelphia’s chapter of 15 Now, says $15 an hour is the bare minimum needed for workers to support a family in Philadelphia. She also said there is no reason for any worker in the city to be living in poverty.
“With the amount of money that big corporations like Comcast and Aramark are making and not paying taxes on, we know the money is there to pay workers more,” Goodman said.
Temple has the chance to help lead Philadelphia in this effort. The university could raise its workers’ pay to $15 an hour and could pay adjuncts a fair wage for all the work they do.
For those who say this would only cause a spike in our tuition, I’m sure we could find somewhere else in the budget to draw from. Tiara Mitchell, a member of Temple’s chapter of 15 Now, agrees and even has few ideas as to where the university might draw funds from.
“Tuition has already been rising,” the junior kinesiology major said. “Temple spends huge amounts of money in areas that they could save money, as far as advertisement, as far as real estate and construction.”
We need to help our city. Unfortunately, Philadelphia has been lagging behind when it comes to raising its minimum wage and keeping pace with other large U.S. cities.
I am hopeful we will catch up eventually, though. Mayoral favorite Jim Kenney has said that he would support a $15 minimum wage once in office. Many Democrats and some Republican presidential candidates have supported a higher wage, with some supporting a $15 wage.
In the meantime, advocates of a $15 an hour minimum wage should keep raising their voices, until they see their wages rise, as well.
Jenny Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jennyroberts511.