Unlivable: Philadelphia’s Minimum Wage

Will Biden double the wages of more than 140,000 Philadelphians with a $15 federal minimum wage?  The closer the latest COVID-19 relief bill gets to being passed, the more this campaign promise looks like an empty one. 

In a recent interview with CBS News, Biden claimed to be a strong supporter of the federal minimum wage increase, which would lift millions of Americans out of poverty, but halfheartedly expressed his doubts that it will pass through congress. He said, “…apparently [that’s] not going to occur because of the rules of the United States Senate…my guess is, it [the $15 minimum wage] will not be in it [the relief bill]”. Biden’s unclear and dispassionate explanation as to why the minimum wage wouldn’t be pushed through leaves working people to wonder if it was an empty promise used to manipulate voters from the beginning. 

In this same interview, Biden claims that he would be willing to negotiate a stand-alone bill that would slowly raise the minimum wage, but this is far from a guarantee. The Congressional Budget’s Office concluded that a $15 minimum wage raised over the next few years would lift an estimated 27 million Americans out of some amount of financial difficulty.  Roughly 9% of Philadelphia residents are among these workers.

Philadelphia has the lowest minimum wage of all major US cities at $7.25 per hour. The 140,000+ Philadelphians who earn the $7.25 minimum are largely Black, Latino, and without a college degree. 63% of these workers are in food service, retail, healthcare, and education — occupations largely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While property taxes and rent have skyrocketed throughout the city, the minimum wage remains the same: a poverty wage.  Working people are in an everlasting state of tireless struggle because of indecent pay, rising rent and mortgages, and the constant risk of COVID-19. While raising the minimum wage would be helpful, doing so gradually would fail to break cycles of poverty for countless Philadelphians. 

Philadelphians are not paid enough to survive. This fact is well-documented by the Self-Sufficiency Standard—an organization which studies how much working families need to make to meet their basic needs. Hundreds of thousands of people in this city struggle financially as a result of the capitalist economic system that directs resources to war and the wealthy while leaving poor and oppressed communities without basic necessities.

Working people in Philadelphia pay upwards of two thirds of their earnings on monthly rent, leaving little left over for groceries, childcare, insurance, transportation, and other essentials. 

According to the 2021 Federal Poverty Guidelines, a family of 3 earning a total of $21,970 per year would be considered above the poverty line. Working families know that this income would not cover a family’s basic needs, not to mention unpredictable emergencies which can be devastating for people living paycheck to paycheck. An average 2-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia is $1,650 per month, not including utilities. A family of 3 making $21,970 per year, living in an apartment priced at an average rate, has $180 left over for utilities, groceries, healthcare, and anything else they may need to live. This is the kind of instability which leaves countless Philadelphians in a constant state of fear, stress, and struggle— at risk of eviction or bankrupting medical bills at a moment’s notice. 

At the start of 2021, over 100,000 Philadelphia residents were at risk of eviction and with the moratorium only pushed back by some weeks, there is no real relief. This is why we demand that the city cancels the rent and mortgages -and that we make the banks pay. Even if capitalist America surprises us and passes the $15 minimum wage at the end of the month, there will still be widespread inequality and impoverishment. Tens of millions of workers in the U.S. aren’t even entitled to minimum wage, including disabled workers, workers on small farms, tipped workers, independent contractors, and incarcerated workers. We will never stop fighting for a system that actually serves the people!