Minimum-wage workers in Maryland, who have seen their earnings eroded by the rising cost of living, may be in line for a pay raise.
Legislation to raise Maryland’s minimum wage is advancing in both houses of the General Assembly, and supporters are hopeful of final approval by the legislature this session.
Minimum-wage advocates in Maryland and elsewhere have been calling for the federal baseline to be raised, and their urgency continues to increase as the cost of housing and healthcare skyrockets. The federal wage has been set at $5.15 an hour since 1997, one of the longest stretches ever without a hike. And in the absence of federal relief, state legislatures, and even county and city governments, are increasingly willing to provide it themselves.
The District’s minimum wage rose from $6.15 to $6.60 an hour January 2006. And Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties now have “living-wage” laws that mandate higher wages for employees of large public contractors.
Maryland’s General Assembly has been reviewing legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage for private-sector workers from the current $5.15 an hour, to $6.15 or $7.
A full-time job at the current rate brings in just over $10,000 a year, and supporters of a hike say that the tens of thousands of minimum-wage workers statewide need help.
They also cite statewide support for better wages.
“This modest increase for Maryland’s lowest-wage workers is long overdue,” said Steve Hill, director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.
He is not alone in thinking so; state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calver) has been quoted as calling the current baseline a “crisis situation.” And last month the state Senate approved a raise in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour, with workers who receive health insurance as an employment benefit remaining at the old rate of $5.15.
The House of Delegates has now held hearings on similar measures, including one to raise the minimum wage as high as $7 an hour.
Over a dozen states and the District of Columbia now set their minimum wages higher than the federal minimum, and over two dozen more are expected to consider proposals this year for new raises. And although no federal raise is anticipated, the U.S. Senate recently saw a lively exchange on the matter.
In Maryland, the new minimum-wage proposals have attracted the support and opposition typical for such measures. Employers like retailers and hotels expressed concern over the rising cost of doing business, while unions and low-income advocates argued that the measures offer important relief to low-wage workers.
The unknown factor is Governor Bob Ehrlich (R), who last year vetoed a “living wage” bill that would have required large state contractors to pay their employees a wage well above the federal minimum wage. And although he has made no public statement of his plans for any minimum-wage bill the General Assembly may pass, the governor has signaled his unhappiness with legislation opposed by the business community.
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce opposes the increases to the minimum wage currently under consideration. It has argued that the measures could force businesses to eliminate or expert jobs, and that would hurt mostly the low and entry-level workers whom the measures are meant to aid.
But Steve Hill echoed the supporters of successful minimum-wage hike efforts nationwide, saying an increase “will not cost jobs or hurt business…It will give a small boost to thousands of workers who will still struggle to make ends meet.”