Longstanding differences remain on increasing minimum wage, and there’s a new concern: is $15 an outdated ask?

by Matt Petras

Christoria Hughes has worked about 13 years for UPMC as a dietary worker, preparing and serving food for patients. She started just above minimum wage and saw slow raises over the years.

“We’re talking about nickels and dimes, you know, maybe a quarter here or there [per hour],” the 64-year-old Oak Hill resident said. “It’s not a lot. I started at, I think it was $7.50 or $8 an hour. I just got to $15, maybe a year and a half ago. That’s ridiculous.”

In 2012, she participated in the first wave of activism in the Pittsburgh area for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. Over the past decade, this policy proposal has become more popular among Democrats, now backed not only by progressive activists but also the vast majority of the party, including President Joe Biden and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

Hughes is glad to see this. But the embrace of a $15 minimum wage is years too late, she said, and falls short of what workers need for a livable wage.

“You can make it on $15 an hour 12 years ago,” Hughes said. “It’s not gonna make it now.”

UPMC pledged in 2016 to raise entry-level pay to $15 an hour by 2021, but while her wage has almost doubled in her time at UPMC, Hughes doesn’t feel like her life has gotten much easier.

“I don’t own a car. I live in subsidized housing. You know? Those types of things,” Hughes said. “When you’re young, you say, ‘Oh, I can make it’ on whatever the minimum wage was back then. But as you get older, you see you can’t make it because the minimum wage isn’t going up any.”

Christoria Hughes, 64, has worked about 13 years for UPMC as a dietary worker, starting just above minimum wage and seeing slow raises over the years. She worries that $15 falls short of what many workers need for a livable wage. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

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Longstanding differences remain on increasing minimum wage, and there’s a new concern: is $15 an outdated ask?

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