Thompson says he has concerns about increasing minimum wage

Does increased consumer spending outweigh higher labor costs?

Do bigger paychecks offset increased prices?

Will people really be lifted out of poverty, or will the poverty level rise to meet them?

Those are some of the questions coming to the fore in the growing debate about higher minimum wages.

It’s an issue that’s gaining attention at both the state and federal levels.

In Pennsylvania, seven bills have already been introduced in the general assembly this year that would either raise the minimum wage, tie it to inflation or both. Meanwhile, at the federal level, six pieces of legislation have been introduced this year, some of them concurrently introduced companion bills in the House and Senate.

The increased interest has been driven in part by President Obama’s focus on the issue this year.

But what do legislators representing Warren County think of an increase?

Congressman Glenn Thompson said he opposes a minimum wage increase as an ineffective tool, preferring to focus on job training and education as a means to increase wages.

Thompson sits on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“I have concerns with raising the minimum wage,” Thompson said. “I support doing everything we can to help people get ahead in life. It’s not so much where you start out in life as where you end up. There are some bills in Congress right now to raise it to as much as $15. I just don’t think that’s the way to do it. When you look at where people who make minimum wage work… It’s also where they consume. If you drive up the basic costs of employees those costs just go up for everybody. To me the better route has always been education and training. That’s where you help them.”

Thompson noted there is legislation currently in committee in the House to increase educational opportunities.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania stands on the opposite side of the issue, supporting the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.

While Casey could not be reached for comment, his office did release a press release on the issue.

“Raising the minimum wage is about basic fairness and economic security for Pennsylvania’s workers and families,” Casey said in the release. “Congress should have an up or down vote on raising the minimum wage.”

The Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the federal minimum wage in three steps from the current $7.25 per hour to an eventual $10.10 per hour, index the minimum wage to the consumer price index to insure it keeps up with inflation and raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to 70 percent of the general minimum wage.

“Passing this bill will increase Pennsylvania’s GDP by over $1 billion and add thousands of jobs,” Casey said of the act. “It will have positive economic impacts for the entire state, not just those working for the minimum wage.”

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage matches the federal rate, but 19 states and the District of Columbia all have rates higher than the federal minimum. Nine states have rates lower than the federal minimum or no state-level minimum wage rate, but employers in those state must still abide by the federal minimum.

Requests for comment on a possible minimum wage increase made to the offices of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, State Sen. Scott Hutchinson, State Sen. Joe Scarnati and State Rep. Kathy Rapp all received no response.