Raising the Minimum Wage in Maryland

    The first principle of the UUA is to affirm the worth and dignity of all persons, but those who earn the minimum wage suffer the INdignity of being very poor.  Those who work full time and make the Maryland (and Federal) minimum wage of $7.25 an hour gross $290 a week ($15,080 per year), not enough to live with dignity and for those with a family not enough to provide even the basic necessities. Payroll taxes mean the take home pay is even less.  The current minimum wage is an insult to workers. 

The minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living and is much lower in today’s dollars than it was 40 years ago.  Several states and the District of Columbia have raised the minimum wage with Oregon at $9.10 the highest.  In the city of San Jose, CA, the minimum wage is $10.15.  One company, Costco, starts its employees at $11.50 an hour.  Moreover if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968 it would today be $10.77 ($22,400 per year). 

BUT, workers at the bottom of the pay scale would be making $17 an hour if increased labor productivity were reflected in their pay rather than in corporate profits, executive compensation and shareholder returns.  (NY Times 1/10/14)

Governor Martin O’Malley supports an increase to $10.10 an hour over the next two years, with automatic increases after that to keep pace with inflation.  We propose that UULM support that and also an increase in the sub-minimum wage for tipped employees from 50% of the minimum wage to 70% (again, stepped over two and a half years).

From a purely economic standpoint raising the wage is a no-brainer.  It would put more money into the economy which in turn creates more jobs.  It would help the economy by reducing spending on government assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps now needed to supplement the income of minimum wage earners, and it would increase the tax revenue the state and federal governments receives.  

But it is the human benefit that is most important.  Poor people not only suffer from low self-esteem and depression.  They have more health problems and live shorter lives than their wealthier counterparts.  Their children suffer from poor nutrition, more health problems, do less well in school and often cost government more as adults because of their disadvantaged background.  The problems and suffering of poverty are repeated generation after generation, becoming virtually hereditary.  Wise nations plan intelligently for their future.  Tragically, the United States is not doing that with respect to poverty and its consequences.

Rev. Bill Murry, Minister Emeritus, River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Past President Meadville-Lombard Theological School
Rev. David Carl Olson, Minister, First Unitarian Church of Baltimore   
Co-chairs, UULM-MD Increase the Minimum Wage Task Force