It’s Women’s History Month, lets close the wage gap in Pennsylvania

March is Women’s History Month -- an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women in our country, our commonwealth, and our community

March is Women’s History Month -- an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women in our country, our commonwealth, and our community. And there is a lot of celebrate, as we have women in leadership positions that were unimaginable decades ago, from Vice President Kamala Harris to Mayor Cherelle Parker. In Harrisburg, the state Supreme Court, the state Senate and the state House are all led by women! And I’m proud to report that we have more women serving in the state House than ever before, including 13 women of color.

However, March has another distinction. In March, we recognize Equal Pay Day, which marks how long into the new year a woman earning the average median salary would need to work to have earned the average median pay a man had earned in the previous year. The symbolic day varies from year to year, but in 2024, Equal Pay Day is March 12.

For Asian American and Pacific Islander women it is April 5; Black Women Equal Pay Day is July 27; for Latinas it is October 5 and for Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is Nov. 30. It takes Native women nearly two full years to earn what a man earns in one!

Unfortunately, while Equal Pay Day is not a celebration, we can use it as a call to action.

Sixty percent of Pennsylvania’s minimum wage earners are women, and Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has been stalled at $7.25 an hour for almost 15 years. Meanwhile, every state around us has a higher wage, including Ohio and West Virginia. In New York, Maryland and New Jersey, minimum wage workers earn $15 an hour or more.

Over a million Pennsylvanians would receive a boost in their pay if we increased our minimum wage to $15 an hour.

My House Democratic colleagues and I know that 15 years is too long to wait for a pay raise, especially when prices have increased and employers in other states are willing to pay their workers more. That is why we advanced a bipartisan bill to finally boost the wage here in the commonwealth. Our plan, which passed the state House last June, would incrementally increase our wage beginning with an increase to $11 by January 2024, $13 by January 2025, $15 by 2026, and indexed to inflation beginning in 2027.

Gov. Josh Shapiro has shared his support for increasing the wage, now the state Senate must act. We can’t allow Pennsylvania’s minimum wage workers to be undervalued and underpaid.

Aside from the minimum wage earners there are other women whose work is being undervalued.

There are many jobs that are critical to making our communities function that are grossly underpaid. Women often pursue professions in child care or as home health aides, which earn low incomes despite their importance.

According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 94% of child care workers are women and they earn an average of $25,365 a year; 97% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are women, and they earn $35,569 a year; and 85% of home health aides are women and the average salary is $31,199 a year.

Pennsylvania currently has a shortage of people working in these professions, but how can we expect people to take on these difficult jobs if they aren’t fairly compensated?

Every Pennsylvanian deserves to earn a living wage that shows the dignity of their hard work.

This year’s state budget proposal aims to drive more funding into some programs to help boost the wage, including a $30 million increase for the Pre-K Counts program to increase the wages of early child care educators.  It also includes over $40 million to help low- and middle-income Pennsylvanians pay for health insurance if they earn too much to qualify for free health care.

My colleagues and I will continue to advance policies like these and others that would help close the wage gap and value Pennsylvanians who take on critical jobs in our community.

For questions about state programs that can help you, call 215-748-6712 or stop by my office at 149 S. 60th St.; we’d love to help.

PA Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton represents the 191st District, which includes portions of Philadelphia and Delaware County.