Over the past several weeks, I have heard from scores of constituents urging me to support an increase in the federal minimum wage - but none more frequently than Michael O'Hara.
Michael is a retired senior citizen who lives in Randallstown. He's never worked for minimum wage in his life. He's collecting a decent pension and once used a hefty inheritance not to pay his rent but to buy the second Corvette Stingray to arrive in Baltimore.
Michael bought that Stingray for $5,200 in 1963, when the federal minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, was $8.37.
That's $1.12 higher than today's rate of $7.25.
"People who are 25 years old today will work maybe 50 years before they retire," Michael says. "What are my children and grandchildren going to do? They've lost half their buying power."
And the disparity between wages and the cost of living is felt most acutely not by Americans buying sports cars, but those struggling to keep up with rising utility bills, insurance premiums and college tuition. Increasing the federal minimum wage is not about giving high school students who work part-time a raise. It is about helping individuals and families meet their daily basic needs. The vast majority of minimum wage workers are at least 20 years old. More than half are working full-time and nearly one third are parents.
Currently, a full-time minimum wage worker earns just slightly more than $15,000 a year - or 19 percent below the poverty line for a family of three. This is unacceptable. If you work hard, you should be able to pay your bills and support your family. Most people agree. In fact, poll after poll suggest that more than 75 percent of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage across all political groups.
That's why I have decided to cosponsor federal legislation to gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2015. Now, with the addition of my support, Maryland's entire Democratic Congressional delegation stands behind this effort.
Economists on both sides of the aisle agree that, if done right, raising the federal minimum wage could be good for business because higher labor costs are offset by greater productivity, less turnover and more consumer demand. Bigger paychecks go right back into the economy and other local businesses. When President Clinton increased the minimum wage in 1996, employment soared and incomes improved at every wage level.
It's also the right thing to do for American families who have seen their food stamps cut and their unemployment benefits expire. The current rate - which hasn't been changed since 2009 - leaves millions of workers struggling to survive higher costs of living, especially in affluent states like Maryland.
I often say that, without a job, you can't support your family, your community or your country. But in reality, you need a livable wage to support your family, your community and your country. I am urging my colleagues in Washington and here in Maryland to support this critical effort to help more Americans help themselves.
U.S. Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger
Second District (which includes eastern Harford County)