Commentary by Barry Rascovar, for MarylandReporter.com
Since its an election year, Democratic politicians in Annapolis are eager to pass an increase in the minimum wage. Gov. Martin OMalley is poised to promote a higher minimum wage law in Maryland as part of his incipient campaign for national office.
But is it a good idea? Will there be unintended consequences in the form of job reductions?
That could well be the case, based on a recent Texas A&M economic study. Its also the findings of a February study by the Congressional Budget Office.
Bottom Line: A jump in the minimum wage by 10% (Marylands proposal is 13% in year one and a cumulative 39% over three years) will have a significant negative impact on future job hiring.
The nonpartisan CBO forecasts that a federal hike in the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour could mean a likely loss of 500,000 jobs nationwide, although theres a chance the job loss could hit one million.
The Texas A&M study may be more relevant in that it looked at new job creation in the year following previous minimum wage hikes. Net job growth falls in response to an increase in the minimum wage, it concludes.
Tom Firey of the Maryland Public Policy Institute figures this could mean the loss of 25% of all newly created jobs in Maryland if the General Assembly ups the minimum wage.
He adds: In this miserable economy, the last thing we need is to further handicap job growth and business start-ups.
Facts and figures not persuasive
All this is fascinating data and under normal circumstances the facts and figures should prove persuasive.
Not for politicians in an election year, though. Not when labor unions and liberal advocacy groups are going overboard promoting a higher minimum wage as the Second Coming.
But beware of the side effects: Higher consumer prices, a contraction of small retail businesses and unemployment for many now employed at the minimum wage rate.
The trade-off: help for the lowest salaried workers, who would see their pay (before taxes) go up by 3%.
Yet raising the minimum wage amounts to a shotgun approach: Only 19% of those who would receive this raise come from households below the poverty threshold of $15,730 for a family of two and $23,850 for a family of four.
Indeed, 29% of those benefiting from a $10.10 minimum hourly wage would come from households earning three times the poverty level ($46,190 for a family of two, $68,450 for a family of four).
An Alternative Route
Earned income tax credit logoA far better way to deliver financial support to the lowest-paid workers is increasing the federal and state earned income tax credit. One hundred percent of that money winds up in the hands of a low-wage worker earning less than $15,000 annually (the cap is $54,000 for a couple with three children). Its a highly effective income supplement for low-wage workers.
Thats not going to happen in Maryland because a more generous EITC means a big hit to the governors budget, whereas raising the minimum wage socks it to small businesses primarily, not the government.
Yet given Marylands shaky economic recovery, lawmakers in the Senate are beginning to have second thoughts about sharply raising the states minimum wage. After all, Maryland lost nearly 10,000 jobs in January. Passage of the governors bill might accelerate those job losses.
Its a Catch-22 for liberal Democratic lawmakers. Advocates standing on the sidelines promote this bill as a huge boost to the economy. Yet no impartial economic study comes to that conclusion.
Now a key senator, Thomas Mac Middleton from Charles County, has thrown a new issue on the table. The governors bill ignores the plight of workers who care from the states developmentally disabled. Theyd end up earning less than the new minimum wage.
Middleton wont move the governors bill until this oversight is addressed. Developmental disability workers 18,000 in community settings deserve far more in wages than theyre paid ($9.82). They perform some of the most emotionally trying work in society tending to 25,000 developmentally disabled people in Maryland.
Even more egregious, the state pays its own developmental workers in rural state residential facilities much more. That fundamental inequity makes no sense except in terms of saving money when the state budget is formulated.
OMalleys minions are negotiating with Middleton and likely will find a way to satisfy the senator. Yet this problem is just the tip of the iceberg.
How many other job categories within state and local governments will have to be adjusted because of a $10.10 minimum wage? Is it affordable?
Theres no doubt a modified version of OMalleys bill will be approved.
It may not have all the bells and whistles far-left advocates and the governor desire, such as an automatic cost of living increase and a big boost in salaries for tipped workers.
The path to $10.10 might be phased in more slowly. More exemptions might be added to cover college students working the summer beach season in Ocean City.
In the end, though, Maryland lawmakers will put a higher minimum wage on the books even though it may not make sound economic sense and might prove the wrong way to address this dilemma.