Commentary by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin
America shouldnt need a minimum wage. Employers should recognize the value of their workers and pay a true living wage that allows the men and women who work for them to afford decent housing, put food on the table and afford other necessities for their families. There will always be some jobs that pay more than others, based on job function, skills required, experience, education and training required, among other factors, but no one who works a 40-hour week should be living in poverty and struggling to support their family.
Unfortunately, there are enough bad actors out there who churn through workers in such a way that require state and federal minimum wage levels to keep them in check.
Im proud of our leaders in Annapolis for moving forward to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, even as gridlock stalls federal action on a similar measure. More than 450,000 Marylanders and their families are depending on its passage. Lets be clear about who this impacts. Predominantly, we arent talking about high schoolers. The minimum wage disproportionately affects women and minority workers. These are adults, predominantly in their 30s; many have children to support.
Maryland has one of the countrys highest cost of living standards and raising the minimum wage allows more of our residents to get a little closer to making ends meet. If the legislature passes Governor OMalleys legislation, Maryland would join the District of Columbia and 21 other States that would have a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage.
Nationwide, according to the Economic Policy Institute, nearly 16.4 million Americans would be directly affected by an increase in the federal minimum wage and another 8.5 million would be indirectly affected. Thats over 19 percent of the workforce that would be receiving an additional $34 billion in wages. Imagine the impact that extra purchasing power would have on businesses and communities across Maryland and America. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 is simply too low. There isnt a state in our nation where someone making minimum wage could afford decent housing without federal or other subsidies or support.
Some have parsed recent reports to argue that raising the minimum wage would harm our economy. The truth is that increasing the federal minimum wage will help stimulate local economies as more families close to the poverty line will be able to spend more on food, housing, and basic necessities. By raising the minimum wage we are giving more Marylanders the chance to raise themselves out of poverty, contribute to their local communities economies, and provide more economic security for their later lives.
There is a strong contingent of businesses, including major national chains like Costco and Old Navy that understand that raising the minimum wage paid to their workers supports their bottom line and their employees. Small businesses see the benefits too. I recently visited British American Auto Care in Columbia, where President Brian England explained his support for raising the minimum wage:
"As a business owner, I've always believed that taking care of my employees is essential for delivering good quality service, and one of the ways to do that is to pay a fair wage. When employees feel like they are being treated fairly, they perform better. It's just makes good business sense. Plus, it's good for the local economy. At the current minimum wage level of $7.25 an hour, people are making less than $300 for a 40-hour work week. Their spending power is extremely limited. They aren't making enough to support local businesses. We have to raise the minimum wage. We should have done it a long time ago."
Brian came to this country decades ago seeking the American Dream for himself and his family. Today, the American Dream is on life-support for too many hard-working Americans who play by the rules but are still living on the edge of poverty. Its just not right. An increase in the minimum wage is long overdue. Maryland isnt waiting on the federal government to get this done, but Congress needs to do its job, so all Americans can reap the rewards.