As Maryland’s state minimum wage gradually increases in the next several years, some Carroll County managers fear the bump in their employees’ paychecks could mean staff cuts or fewer hiring opportunities.
State lawmakers approved a bill in March detailing a rise in baseline earnings that would be phased in through 2025 or 2026, depending on the size of the business. The outcome was decided when the Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto, which he signed out of concern that the increase could cut low-wage workers’ jobs and make the state less competitive.
For Rachael Beck, co-owner of E.W. Beck's Restaurant & Pub in Sykesville, the biggest impact she foresees is with their high school employees. There’s “quite a few” students who have worked their first jobs at the eatery, and they might not be able to keep as many of them on over time.
“We love working with them,” she said. “However, as that wage creeps up, on a night where we might have two or three of them working, we might have to scale back … to get the same amount of work and expertise out of two people instead of maybe three or four.”
As long as the business is able to continue paying their tipped employees less than the state minimum wage, Beck doesn’t foresee “drastic changes” to operations at the front of the house.
That doesn’t mean the implementation is without its benefits, though. Daniela Hartley, an employee at Blizzard’s Shaved Ice in Westminster — a business employing mostly high-school-age students — said there’s two sides of the issue to take into consideration.
“Younger kids are going to be able to keep up with the rising prices of things like gas and things like that. I feel like with such a low minimum wage it’s hard to keep up with those raising prices,” she said. “A negative would be just having to maybe cut down on employees possibly, employers might be constantly aware of that.”
Hartley, a recent graduate from Towson University, said she’s always thought a minimum wage rise would be a good thing, recalling the days she used to work holiday shifts at Belk, the chain department store. Though she worked “crazy hours,” her paycheck didn’t seem to amount to much.
“I would be like, ‘OK, I feel like I did a lot more work than this,’ you know?” she said.
Living in Carroll County has steep costs for necessities, particularly for low-wage workers. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an employee earning the current minimum wage would have to work 82 hours per week just to afford living in a one-bedroom housing unit in the county.
To balance out the higher wage, though, some businesses will have to make changes. That might mean raising prices, letting employees go or employers being reluctant to hire new ones.
But some businesses have fewer options for doing so. At A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, the business’ prices are set by the publisher, meaning it’ll have to look elsewhere to lower expenses.
The store is also in the process of expanding — with some events and business done off-site — leaving owner Debbie Scheller with a need to potentially hire more people. But with the wage rising she’s hesitant to hire new employees, and she plans to hire people as contractors for some out-of-store events instead so that she can pay them a flat fee, she said.
“I have not heard of anything positive coming from this, on an employer or as a consumer,” she said. “As an employer, it’s going to put a harder stress on making ends meet, and as a consumer, it’ll have a harder effect on my pocketbook, because the prices are going to go up. I don’t see a positive.”
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And the impact has hit local nonprofits, too. After the rise passed the state legislature, the Tender Care pregnancy center board voted to cut off its Westminster center from the joint-fundraising efforts of its other centers, said Barbara Faid, who manages community outreach for the Westminster center.
The Westminster center, which Faid describes as the county’s only pro-life pregnancy center, was affiliated with two other centers — one in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and the other in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — that wouldn’t be affected by the mandated increase, she said. It would be difficult to sustain all three centers, so the board decided to cut off the Maryland center from its funding efforts, taking effect July 1, she added.
“I understand — there’s just not 88,000 extra more dollars by the time it gets to $15 per hour,” Faid said, adding that she voted against the decision when she was on the board.
After that date, it will undergo a name change, and the Carroll County center will have to become self-sustaining, collecting its own donations and fundraising, she said.
For area businesses that already pay their employees $15 per hour, the change won’t be much of a change at all. At Giulianova Groceria in Westminster, owner Bill Schroeder has two part-time employees he already pays that much.
“You want somebody worth every nickel of it, and I look for self-motivators,” he said. “I mean, I go through employees until I get to the right one, and then I pay them very, very well.”