Lawmakers propose raising minimum wage

Two Democratic lawmakers are pushing a plan to hike Maryland's minimum wage to $10 an hour, one of the highest rates in the country.

Huddled in Tuesday's sub-freezing temperatures, the lawmakers and about 40 demonstrators holding "hard work deserves fair pay" signs made an argument that the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage was not enough for full-time workers to support themselves.

Sen. Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the increase would be phased in by 2015. He said the improving economy makes it a good time to address forces that are widening the income inequality gap.

Maryland's current minimum wage, which is equivalent to about $15,000 a year, matches the federal rate. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have minimum wage rates higher than the federal; four have rates below, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Washington State has the highest statewide minimum wage, $9.19 per hour.

The nation's highest minimum wage is $10.55 per hour in San Francisco, according to the Employment Policies Institute, a Washington-based organization that has advocated against raising minimum wage rates.

Tuesday's demonstration was part of the Raise Maryland campaign formed to push for a higher minimum wage. The group also proposes increasing wages for tipped workers and having minimum wage rates rise each year with the cost of living. Several unions, the NAACP of Maryland, and an immigrant rights group belong to the Raise Maryland coalition.

Prince George's County Del. Aisha Braveboy is backing the plan in the House of Delegates. .

The Employment Policies Institute released a statement Tuesday arguing that raising Maryland's minimum wage as proposed by Garagiola and Braveboy would result in job losses.

Robert Lynch, an economics professor Washington College who works with the Raise Maryland campaign, acknowledged that research shows initial job losses after a wage hike. But he said the economy is bolstered by higher-paid employees spending the larger paychecks.

"There's a stimulus effect when all of those low-wage workers spend that money," Lynch said. "While some businesses will indeed lay off workers, other businesses will see their business go up and hire workers."

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