The Fight for $15 in Maryland
By Grace Derbyshire
Marylanders might see an increase in our hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2023
under a bill proposed this session by Senator Richard Madaleno of Montgomery
County (SB 543). Maryland workers and their supporters in the “Fight for $15
Maryland” campaign contend that a higher wage allows for economic fairness
and progress in the state. Delegate Shelly Hettleman of Baltimore County has
introduced a similar bill in the House of Delegates (HB 664).
Recently, Washington D.C. and Montgomery Country passed laws to have their
local minimum wage raised to $15 by the year 2020. Likewise, the governor of
Virginia has already voiced support for Virginia raising the minimum wage to
$15 per hour. A proposal last year failed in Baltimore after Mayor
Catherine Pugh vetoed the bill out of concerns about cost and that a higher
minimum wage might drive businesses out of the city. But a statewide
measure would alleviate that concern and Mayor Pugh has endorsed the state
Supporters assert that the higher minimum wage would not only benefit
workers but improve the overall state economy. The current minimum wage has
not been adjusted to reflect inflation and leaves many Maryland families
struggling to provide food and other basic necessities. Many families must
rely on public assistance programs to make ends meet, and the increased wage
for low-income earners would allow these families to spend more at local
businesses, thus boosting our economy. Fewer state funds would be needed for
public programs to aid lower-income individuals and families, reducing the
burden on state taxes, and providing economic security and a higher overall
standard of living.
Critics of the proposal suggest that a $15 minimum wage would primarily
benefit teenaged, part-time workers. However, data shows that 96 percent of
workers potentially benefiting from the proposed wage increase are 20 years
or older; and the change would particularly benefit single mothers, nearly a
third of whom currently support themselves and their children on a
minimum-wage income. Raising the minimum would also have the gradual effect
of increasing salaries of all other low-income workers.
Critics also contend that increasing the minimum wage might have the
unintended consequence of reducing the number of low-income jobs. However,
many economists have shown that not to be the case over the long term.
Recently, 600 economists signed a letter asserting that a national minimum
wage increase should ultimately benefit the nation’s economy. A 2015
economic survey showed that the majority of small businesses approve of
lifting the minimum wage, concluding that more workers will be able to
financially support small businesses with an increased income. Fourteen
Maryland businesses submitted testimony to a State Senate committee in
support of the $15 minimum wage increase, including Atwater’s, A Few Cool
Hardware Stores and Rise Up Coffee Roasters.
Importantly, the proposed legislation also would increase pay for tipped
workers and community service providers who care for people with
developmental disabilities. All of these proposals enjoy wide support among
Maryland’s many progressive constituencies.