Supporters of Baltimore's $15 per hour minimum wage bill called on Mayor Catherine Pugh to deliver on her promise to support the higher wage, saying opponents' predictions of job losses in the city are overblown and the city stands to benefit from decreased poverty and increased home ownership.

Business groups say the mandate passed overwhelmingly by the City Council on Monday puts employers in the city at a competitive disadvantage to those in surrounding jurisdictions. Some business owners and managers said the added labor costs would force them to raise prices, lay off workers, delay expansion plans or look for sites outside the city without such wage rules.

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Pugh said she expects to decide in the next few days whether to sign the bill. Pugh said she has concerns about businesses leaving the city, making it harder for low-skilled workers to find jobs.

It would take effect July 1, 2022, for businesses with 50 or more employees and by 2026 for businesses with fewer than 50 workers.

The Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition organized a conference call Thursday to dispel what it called misconceptions about the impact of rising wages. Supporters say the wage increase will give a raise to 80,000 workers in the city — a quarter of the workforce — who will see their incomes rise by an average $4,400 when adjusted for inflation.

David Cooper, a senior economic analyst for the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank that focuses on issues impacting low-income workers, said studies in the last decade have shown that "past increases have had little to no effect on employment."

That has been true when minimum wages are raised statewide or in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. In New Mexico, Santa Fe has maintained wages well above the state minimum for more than a decade and has a lower unemployment rate, he said.

"There is no evidence of business relocation ... to avoid [higher wages] other then anecdotal," said Cooper, adding that access to customers is a bigger influence than labor costs for industries such as retail, food service, hospitals, child care, hospitality and others.

Ben Smith, policy consultant at Baltimore consulting firm Tidemore Group, said that wage increases will lead to higher rates of homeownership and graduation, and fewer police interactions.

However, Stephen J.K. Walters, a professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland, said he sees statistical flaws in many of the studies showing no impact on employment from wage increases or little focus on long-term effects.

"When costs go up, customers buy less and [there is] reduced labor demand" and more automation, he said. "This is going to cost jobs."

Josh Keogh, one of the owners of Baltimore Bicycle Works, said he believes his customers and future customers who get raises will have more money to spend at his Station North shop, which sells and repairs bicycles and accessories.

"It would be giving people who work in Baltimore something closer to a fair wage," Keogh said.

Because he employs fewer than 50 people — just four — his business will have until 2024 to raise his starting wage from the current $11 an hour to $15, he said. He expects his business will benefit as others paying only minimum bring their wages up, giving workers more disposable income.

His view contrasts with business owners who have said they can't afford a mandated wage increase and will be forced to stop expanding in the city or to look for new quarters outside the city.

Pugh said Wednesday she still is evaluating the bill and conferring with people in the community as well as the region's county executives.

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"The key for us is, what's going to happen in the surrounding counties," Pugh said. "I have gotten calls from companies and corporations who have said they will move to the surrounding counties if they have to fund this."

She said the minimum wage in the city already will be rising as part of the statewide increase to $9.25 an hour on July 1 and $10.10 a year later.

"I am also concerned with the number of people who have no job experience at all, who need to get to work," Pugh said. "You see it when you go into the supermarket today. Everything is being automated. We don't want to put our people out of work who don't have skills."

Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this story

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