Summer Savings! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
Op-Eds
News Opinion Op-Eds

Maryland must raise its minimum wage

Having grown up in a working class family in Rhode Island, I know what's it like for parents to struggle to make ends meet. There were six kids in my family supported by my dad's maintenance man salary and my mother's minimum wage job flipping burgers. Despite having two incomes, during the cold months, we had to choose between grocery shopping and paying the heating bill. There were plenty of pancake suppers during those winters.

The conditions that my family struggled with still exist for so many. The federal and state minimum wage rates remain stuck at $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 for a full-time worker. After more than three years since the official end of the Great Recession, average wages are still declining in real terms, even as workers throughout the U.S. put in longer hours to get by.

It's time for Maryland to raise the minimum wage and commit to indexing it to keep pace with the rising cost of living. We take pride in being the richest state in the country. We must also fairly compensate the Marylanders who wake up each morning to do the hard work of cleaning office buildings, serving food and providing care for the elderly.

A strong coalition of labor, faith and community groups has come together to advocate for a plan to incrementally raise Maryland's minimum wage to $10 by 2015 and then index it so that wages don't lose value over time.

People are so close to the edge and struggle to make choices about basic things in their lives. Our congregation has two parishioners who are planning their wedding. One is working at Walmart and the other recently was laid off. They have no fixed address, moving between family and friends. When planning a recent counseling session, they almost canceled because they couldn't afford two Metro fares. As they establish their family, it breaks my heart to consider their future.

About 320,000 Maryland workers will benefit directly and indirectly from an increase in the minimum wage. Contrary to the myth that minimum wage workers are mostly young people working part-time, more than 80 percent of the workers who will get this proposed raise are age 20 or older, over half work full-time and another third work between 20 hours and full-time.

An increase in the minimum wage will go right back into the economy, generating economic growth as these workers put food on their tables and raise their families. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that increasing the minimum wage will raise pay for more than 450,000 working Marylanders while injecting approximately $380 million into Maryland's economy and creating an estimated 1,500 jobs.

While the value of higher wages for low-paid workers remains clear, those who oppose any increase in the minimum wage still claim that higher wages will only slow job growth or burden local businesses. These concerns find no support from the facts. Indeed, businesses that pay fair wages to their employees ultimately benefit from reduced turnover and higher worker productivity, as their employees are spared from the struggle of balancing two or more jobs in order to make ends meet.

In fact, the real strain on economic growth in today's economy stems from the decision made by many national fast food chains and big box retailers to inflate their profits by paying rock-bottom wages, siphoning money out of local communities and impoverishing the customer base needed to sustain economic growth. The paradox is that poor folk need places to get inexpensive goods, but it is the poor who get ground down by the big box.

The message of the religious community — whether it is from Moses, Jesus or Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and a personal hero of mine — is that we are called to care for the poor. It's not about charity. It's about creating an equitable system in which all work has dignity, you get a fair wage and everyone has agency in their own lives to reach their full potential. Raising the minimum wage will help put Marylanders on that path.

Reverend David Carl Olson is the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. His email is minister@firstunitarian.net.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Raise Maryland's standard

    Raise Maryland's standard

    Our view: Increasing the state's minimum wage could help tens of thousands of working families, create thousands of jobs and spur economic growth

  • Minimum wage hike would cost jobs

    Minimum wage hike would cost jobs

    In his recent Sun op-ed in favor of a higher minimum wage, Baltimore Rev. David Carl Olson cites an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute to claim that a wage hike will create jobs ("Maryland Must Raise its Minimum Wage," January 22).

  • Suspensions are the symptom, racism is the cause

    Suspensions are the symptom, racism is the cause

    When my daughter was a junior in high school, she became captain of her softball team. One morning, while she shared some snacks I had brought her with a couple of teammates, a teacher accused her of selling food. He then confiscated my daughter's bag, violating the school board policy that gives...

  • Maryland's regulation SWAT team

    Maryland's regulation SWAT team

    Gov. Larry Hogan has taken a well-worn page from the right-wing handbook and announced the appointment of a panel of business executives to identify state regulations that should be dismantled. It's tempting to dismiss the panel as a sop to his conservative base, but it poses a serious threat to...

  • Addressing the work family balance

    Addressing the work family balance

    Whatever you think about Sen. Bernie Sanders and business billionaire Donald Trump, it is exciting to see the chorus of viewpoints being offered by more than a dozen presidential candidates (16 on the GOP side alone). The summer of 2015 is hardly going to be a sleeper.

  • Connecting communities and schools in Baltimore

    Connecting communities and schools in Baltimore

    A sea change is taking place in Baltimore, and it recently received national recognition. Where it's taking hold, school attendance is up. Chronic absenteeism is down. Student achievement and promotion rates are up. More families are engaged. School climates are being transformed.

  • Planned Parenthood attack part of political agenda

    Planned Parenthood attack part of political agenda

    Planned Parenthood is the most trusted women's health care provider in this country. Approximately one in five women in the United States has relied on a Planned Parenthood health center for care in her lifetime. At Planned Parenthood, nothing is more important to us than the health and safety...

  • Overcoming the confidence gap

    Overcoming the confidence gap

    When I was sent the link to a Baltimore Sun article about four local girls making the U.S. national Under-19 lacrosse team, I was eager to read it. After all, I had played on that same team 16 years ago, and one of my own students is on the team. So I opened the link, read the first sentence, and...

Comments
Loading
72°