For Monique Tracy, raising Maryland’s minimum wage would be the difference between living paycheck to paycheck and having some money to spare.
“It would help me a lot,” said Tracy, 25, an employee at a Rite Aid in Pikesville.
Tracy has been working at the store for two years. Her $8-an-hour salary must pay her rent, cable and car payments, among other bills. By the end of the biweekly pay period, she has nothing left.
Recent cuts in hours have made life at the store even more difficult. She currently works about 30 hours a week but still finds herself having to put away half of every paycheck so she has money for the weeks she doesn’t get a check.
“I’m basically working just to pay my bills,” said Tracy, adding that an increase to $10.10, as advocated by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a cadre of legislators and even President Barack Obama, would allow her to have some money left over each week to spend beyond the bare necessities.
Next door, at the Dollar City party supply store, owner Kristy Kang said she and her husband, who co-owns the store, cannot afford to pay any employees as it is.
“Oh my God,” she said in response to the possible increase to $10.10 an hour by 2016. “Then I could hire nobody,” even seasonal help.
Over the course of the past year, the movement to increase the state minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour — a figure that returns the minimum wage to its 1960s value with adjustment made for inflation — has been steadily gaining steam. Not only has O’Malley’s administration identified it as one of its top priorities for 2014, the governor’s final year in office, but Obama even mentioned the figure in his State of the Union address last week. The president announced that he would unilaterally raise the minimum wage for government contractors to $10.10 and encouraged state officials to follow suit.
“We’re going to forge consensus and increase the minimum wage,” O’Malley said on Jan. 20. “When workers earn more money, businesses will have more customers, and we’ll grow Maryland’s economy from the middle out.”
Though the federal minimum currently stands pat at $7.25 per hour, 21 states and Washington, D.C., have passed rates that are higher than the federal minimum wage. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties voted late last year to increase their minimum wage to $11.50 per hour.
Neither Virginia, West Virginia nor Pennsylvania have rates higher than the federal standard.
A March 2013 Gallup Poll showed that more than seven of every 10 Americans supported raising the minimum wage to $9. Among self-identified Republicans, a group typically suspicious of minimum-wage increases, one of every two supported the move.
Many in the Jewish community have been getting on board as well. Late last year Temple Emanuel in Kensington adopted a resolution in support of a higher minimum wage.
“We resolve that Temple Emanuel support efforts to increase the minimum wage — whether it is at the county, state or national level,” its membership announced. “We resolve to support an increase in the minimum wage that would allow workers to support themselves with greater dignity and independence — a true Jewish value. And we resolve to support linking the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index in order to ensure that the minimum wage will keep pace with increases in the cost of living.”
“It is a religious responsibility,” concluded Temple Emanuel’s membership, “to care for the needy of our society and safeguard a just minimum wage.”
The Baltimore Jewish Council has also been vocal in its support of the raise, calling for a higher state minimum wage in October and, more recently, endorsing the governor’s $10.10 plan early last week.
“It will reduce the income inequality,” asserted BJC executive director Arthur Abramson. “It’s the right thing to do.”