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 the District. 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 in 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 has created real financial challenges for those new entrants to the workforce.
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 like 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 (D-Md.) 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 Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington 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 education system that will prepare young people for those jobs.
It has certainly been time to raise the minimum wage to reasonable levels. It is not possible for people to live comfortably on $7.25 an hour, especially for young adults who do not have college degrees. The sensation is further aggravated by the fact that money opportunities are often an illusory concept that, when people chase them, lead to evil pitfalls.
The minimum wage, especially in the DC Area, needs to be raised to $18 an hour. It is not possible for people to live comfortably on wages that give way to earning less than $50,000 a year. Certainty employers need to treat their workers as humans and
not imprison them in ugly realities.