In a wide-ranging discussion, hosted by the Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition, elected officials and others recently shared their thoughts on “The Economics of Women and Work.”
During a program at Pennswood Village in Newtown, about 100 people participated in the conversation that addressed issues such as affordable child care and health care, increasing the minimum wage, education and paid family leave.
Barbara Price, first vice president of BCWAC, told the audience median earnings for men in the First Congressional District in 2017 were $65,793, compared to $51,107 for women. The Delaware Valley, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer story, has the highest student debt burden in the country, with an average $36,193 loan balance, said Price.
Others, such as Kristin Chapin with the YWCA- Bucks County, and Marianne Bellesorte, with Pathways PA., spoke about the cost of living in Bucks County and the need for an increase in the minimum wage.
Quoting the Keystone Research Center, Chapin said, increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour would increase the wages of 90,392, or 28.9 percent of Bucks County’s resident workforce. A single woman with a preschooler would need to earn $57,273 ($27.54 an hour) to meet basic needs without public or private assistance, according to the 2018 self-sufficiency standard.
State Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D- 10th District) said he supports legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 in Pennsylvania. It’s currently $7.25. Wendy Ullman, a Democrat newly elected to the state House of Representatives from the 143rd District, said she too, supports a hike.
“We need to bring employers into the conversation,” Ullman told the audience, adding that small business owners must also be included. “Big business has plans for an increase, but small businesses don’t. We don’t want to lose those mom and pop businesses.”
Student debt was also addressed, with several people commenting on the need for greater financial support for Bucks County Community College and higher education, overall.
“It’s well documented that the more you invest in higher education, the more benefit there is and the better the outcome,” said Santarsiero. “Pennsylvania ranks 48th in the country in its support of institutions of higher learning … that’s unacceptable.”
Bucks County Commissioner Diane Marseglia said neither the county nor the state is contributing the one-third support they have agreed to provide to the community college.
State Rep. Frank Farry (R-142nd) cautioned that community college funding can be difficult at the state level, as not every county has a community college. He encouraged advocacy on the issue. He also noted that in his 11 years in Harrisburg, he has never seen as much support as there is now for increasing the minimum wage.
Speaking out on health care, Rep. Perry Warren (D-31st) said access to quality health care for all is critical to economic equality. “We need 100 percent coverage in this state and the country.”
Of specific importance to Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-18th) was a state-funded general cash assistance program. He called on the advocacy organization to support legislation to reinstate the program for those in need. “It’s only $205 a month,” he said. “It’s critically important … a lifeline to seniors, the disabled and pregnant women.”
The Bucks County Women’s Advisory Coalition educates and advocates on behalf of women to promote systemic change to achieve gender equality and economic equality for all.