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By Marc Stier, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Policy Center

I took my first regular paid job as a hotel bellhop in 1966 when I was eleven. It was hard work—in many ways harder than anything I do today. People came to stay for a week or three and that meant a summer of schlepping heavy bags, sometimes up two flights of stairs. The tips were sometimes good and sometimes not.

The minimum wage in 1968 was $1.60. But when I got my first paycheck, I was astounded to see that my pay rate was only eighty cents per hour. This made no sense to me, so I went to speak to my boss.

I said, “Mom, why am I only getting paid half of the minimum wage?” She explained the tipped minimum wage to me that day and ever since I’ve opposed that policy, which makes employees dependent on the good will of customers for their sustenance.

However, the moral of this story is not just about the tipped minimum wage. It’s also about the relative value of the minimum wage over time.

After adjusting for inflation, a minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968 would be $14.18 today, which is far above our minimum wage of $7.25 in Pennsylvania. And adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is now worth less than at any time since the mid-1950s.

Comparing the minimum wage in 1968 to the minimum wage today doesn’t just require an adjustment for inflation. Average labor productivity has increased by 176% since 1968—that is workers on average generate 176% more economic value today than in 1968. Working people, as well as the ultra-rich, should benefit from growing productivity, so we should adjust the minimum wage  to reflect both the increase in productivity increases and inflation. If we do that, an adjusted minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968 would be a minimum wage of $24.90 today.[1]

Here is another way to think about the decline in the value of the minimum wage. In 1968, a single person working full-time at the minimum wage would earn enough to lift a family of three above poverty.[2] Today, a single person working full time at Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25 barely keeps himself or herself above the poverty line.

And finally, one more way to think about the minimum wage in an historical context. When the minimum wage was created and set at 25 cents per hour in 1938, it was equal to 43% of the mean (average) wage in Pennsylvania. By 1968 when I took my first job, the minimum wage had reached 52% of the mean wage in Pennsylvania. Today it has fallen to about 25% of the mean wage. A $15 minimum wage would take us back to the level we reached in 1968, about 50% of the median wage.

It’s precisely because the national minimum wage of $7.25 is so inadequate that almost every state around us has raised its minimum wage far above it. The District of Columbia has a minimum wage of $17. Connecticut’s minimum wage is $15.69. New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts each have a $15 minimum wage. Delaware and Maryland will each have a $15 minimum wage by January 1, 2025. And Ohio’s minimum wage is $10.45. West Virginia’s is stuck at $8.75, but even that is still higher than Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25.

 Source: Keystone Research Center

Pennsylvania workers have fallen behind because the state hasn’t raised the minimum wage in more than 13 years.

According to the Keystone Research Center, only about 60,000 Pennsylvania workers earn an hourly wage that is at or below the minimum wage of $7.25. But 1.34 million additional Pennsylvania workers would see their wages rise with a $15 per hour minimum wage by January 2026. Almost 776,000 who make less than $15 per hour (including 60,000 making below $7.25 and hour and 716,000 making between $7.25 and $15 per hour) would see their wages go up to $15. Another 568,000 who make just above $15 an hour would see a wage increase as pay scales are adjusted upward in response to a higher minimum wage. A total of more than 21% of Pennsylvania’s workforce would see their wages go up.[3]

That kind of increase in buying power would not only help low-income workers but it would give our economy a boost, especially for local small businesses.

It’s long past time for Pennsylvania to join the rest of the region—and much of the country—in setting a minimum wage that works for today, not long ago.

[1] Data on the growth in labor productivity can be found here: Joni Sweet, “How Labor Productivity Has Changed Since 1950,” Stacker, March 20, 2024, We relied on the full data set found here: FRED: Federal Reserve Economic Data, “Nonfarm Business Sector: Labor Productivity (Output per Hour),

[2] Stephen Herzenberg, Claire Kovach, and Maisum Murtaza, “2023 State of Working Pennsylvania,” Keystone Research Center, August 30, 2023.

[3] Claire Kovach, “Who Benefits? The Demographic Impact of a Minimum Wage Increase in Pennsylvania,” Keystone Research Center, February 1, 2024,