Any discussion of the minimum wage should begin with the fact that Costco pays a starting hourly wage of $11.50 in all states. Compare that to the $7.25 minimum wage mandated by federal law, the state of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia and the $8.25 minimum wage in Washington, D.C.
In Maryland, a new drive is under way to raise the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 over three years and to have that number indexed to inflation. A similar proposal failed to make it out of committee in the last legislative session. We hope it will become law the coming session.
The $7.25 minimum wage is the equivalent of about $15,000 a year as a full-time salary, far below the poverty line of $22,050 for a family of four. While the minimum wage was not designed as a living wage, it also wasn’t designed to be the norm for an ever-increasing number of people. Yet the low-paying (minimum-wage) service sector is where most of the job growth has been in recent years, and it has created real financial challenges for those new entrants to the work force.
Opponents of raising the minimum wage argue that it will force employers to hire fewer workers to balance the cost. We’re not so sure. Indeed, low-cost businesses such as Costco, Trader Joe’s and QuikTrip have reported cost savings when paying employees well over the minimum wage, since productivity goes up and turnover goes down.
Gov. Martin O’Malley has come out in favor of raising the state minimum wage. So have the three announced candidates who would like to succeed him in 2014 — Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and state Attorney General Douglas Gansler. Such support is important, but it won’t be enough. We urge the governor to make this issue his own — just as he did last session in the successful drive to abolish the death penalty and institute gun control.
The Jewish community can help. Our synagogues and the Baltimore Jewish Council are well positioned to help get out the message of the importance of affording entry-level workers in the state the chance to live better lives.
While the proposed minimum wage is not enough to keep a family out of poverty, it is a start. Once that’s done, we can shift attention to the development of better-paying jobs and an affordable, quality educational system that will prepare young people for those jobs.