In the News

Rep. Houlahan calls for national $15 per hour minimum wage

Originally Published in the Pottstown Mercury

SOUTH COATESVILLE — Chester County and much of the Philadelphia region will soon begin to see the economy operating on all cylinders as more companies begin to hire employees back to the pre-pandemic level.

That was one of the key takeaways from Rep. Chrissy Houlahan's 49th Town Hall Meeting in South Coatesville Tuesday night, her first in-person Town Hall since the pandemic began early in 2020.

The Town Hall focused on jobs and economy and featured several experts including: Ken Lebron, director, Berks County Veterans Services; Tara Loew, director of Apprenticeship and Training, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry; Jamal Abodalo, director of Community Development Service, City of Reading; Patrick Hayakawa, vice president of Innovation and Marketing, Chester County Economic Development Council; and Karen Kozachyn, vice president of Workforce and Economic Development, Delaware County Community College.

"I think we will come out of COVID very strong," said Abodalo. "The landscape has forever changed for all of us. You no longer need to go to the supermarket to buy groceries. You can order what you need from your iPhone. All of us are complaining about a shortage of material and price of goods going up. But if manufacturers can manufacture the same piece as they did before (COVID) with all the workers they need, prices will drop down; it's supply and demand. We need to educate our workforce by training them and by giving them very good-paying jobs."

Loew and Kozachyn said the key to economic recovery locally will be encouraging more people to enter trades or apprenticeship programs.

"If you want a job, we have a 100 percent placement rate," Kozachyn said. "Programs like welding, carpentry, automotive, manufacturing, Computer-Aided Design – firms are waiting for our students to graduate."

Loew said local firms are just beginning to see that hiring those coming out of apprenticeship programs gives them a solid return on investment.

"It's a long-term investment for them, and the ability to pass down knowledge from an aging workforce is so imperative," she said.

Loew said skilled trades offer a faster and less expensive route to stable, well-paying jobs.

"I truly believe apprenticeship is the key to economic recovery for job seekers as well as employers," she said. "They are earning a wage as they learn."

In Pennsylvania, 486,000 work in skilled trades and of those, 97 percent are men and 89 percent white.

"We are taking major steps to ensure our staff is building diversity, equity and inclusion into every portion of apprenticeship programs," Loew said.

The U.S. Department of Labor earlier this year announced the availability of approximately $87.5 million for grants to expand Registered Apprenticeships across the nation, with up to $40 million of those funds in grants awarded to states that implement required diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and demonstrate their commitment to adopt, expand and promote these efforts.

Houlahan reminded residents that the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, which has already passed the House, will expand access to high-quality, registered apprenticeship programs.

"We aren't doing a good job of finding ways for apprenticeship programs to grow," she said. "This is a very good piece of legislation and its time has come."

Houlahan used the Town Hall to trumpet her call for a national minimum wage of $15 per hour, which she said would stimulate economic growth. She said many in Chester and Berks counties struggle because the cost of living in those areas is among the highest in the nation.

"I very much firmly believe people ought to be able to work one 40-hour workweek job and be able to live in our area, and that tends to settle out to be $15 per hour for us," she said. "I think it would solve a lot of our unemployment problems, meaning jobs that are open if we had that kind of living wage."

Houlahan also said more needs to be done to help the millions of women who have had to leave their jobs in the past year due to COVID get back into the workforce. It is possible the issue could be addressed in the current $973 billion infrastructure package. She said new roads, bridges and tunnels do no good if workers can't use them because they can't get to work due to a lack of child care.