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Prevailing Wage A Good Deal For All

10/16/2013

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Economist's simplistic prescription would devastate workers: PennLive letters

 

Matthew Rousu, an economist from Susquehana University, recently wrote a commentary in the Patriot-News and PennLive calling for the repeal of Pennsylvania's prevailing wage law. His argument basically boiled down to this: Without prevailing wage, we could pay workers less and therefore construction projects would be cheaper. State or local governments could save money. 

In the strictest since, Mr. Rousu's point is mathematically true. But it is a terrible argument for repealing or weakening our prevailing wage law.

Of course we could save money (at least in the short term) by paying workers less. In fact, paying workers anything at all costs more than paying them nothing. So from a purely fiscal perspective, if we paid workers poverty-level wages, we could erect lots and lots of buildings.

The problem with this argument, of course, is that it completely ignores the impact on the workers themselves. In fact, Mr. Rousu explicitly dismisses any legitimate interest workers may have in earning enough to support their families when he says "whatever wage we can pay in which someone will accept the work." In a recession, or a soft economy such as we have now, workers might be forced to accept work at wages below the poverty level. Their lives would be dismal and their families deprived of even the basics of life. But heck, we'd have more cheap buildings.

In my view, Mr. Rousu's decidedly unbalanced perspective is profoundly misguided. Working men and women aren't disposable work-horses whose quality of life is irrelevant to us. They are human beings who are entitled to live decently and support their families. 

Paying a living wage is part of the cost of any project, just as much as the cost of lumber and wiring. A strong prevailing wage law is all that stands between many hard-working Pennsylvanians and poverty. It must be retained.

SEN. DAYLIN LEACH, Delaware and Montgomery Counties


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