Montgomery County is Maryland’s most densely populated and expensive county. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a single adult without children living in the Silver Spring area or Maryland suburbs of the District needs to earn a minimum of $41,424 just to make ends meet. That translates to $19.71 an hour. For single adults raising just one child, that amount nearly doubles – to a living wage of nearly $64,407, or $30.97 per hour.
The cost of living in Montgomery County is similar to that of Washington, D.C., which ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the nation. And it’s worth noting that in the District, lawmakers have enacted legislation that will gradually raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2020. It’s time for Montgomery County do the same.
Many Maryland workers must pick up extra shifts or a second job to make ends meet, putting a strain on raising a family and making it nearly impossible to spend time with children and loved ones or tend to household matters. A $15 minimum wage brings working families closer to earning what’s necessary to cover basic needs. As many as 106,800 workers in the county could benefit from raising the wage.
Montgomery County’s push for a $15 minimum wage is part of a growing national call for fair wages. Since 2013, 16 states and localities have approved $15 minimum wage rates covering employees in all or specific private sector industries. Ten others are considering legislation to raise the wage locally. Much of this is because the success of the Fight for $15 campaign, which has scored significant victories throughout the country.
In contrast, there are those who oppose raising the minimum wage and question its benefits. Still, successful outcomes in cities and counties with a $15 minimum wage belies them. In the Seattle region, for example, the unemployment rate hit an eight-year low of 3.6 percent in August 2015, four months after the city executed the first of several steps towards a $15 wage. Meanwhile, Washington state’s jobless rate jumped to 5.3 percent that same month, proving that raising the wage can produce local economic gain. Recent analysis also confirms this. The $15 minimum wage law in Seattle is having its intended outcome raising pay for the city’s most vulnerable workers without significant adverse effects on the local economy.
Montgomery County’s working families cannot thrive making stagnant, low wages. With the costs of living rising, it is time that paychecks reflect reality. Maryland Working Families advocates for the economic advancement of all Marylanders and supports a $15 minimum wage for Montgomery County residents. An increase in the wage would show legislators are putting workers and their families’ needs first.
As the fight for higher state minimum wages gains more and more support from economists, legislators, business owners and the public, it will become imperative for the Montgomery County Council to unite with workers and give our county the economic boost it deserves.
Charly Carter is executive director of Maryland Working Families.