Montgomery County will join the District of Columbia in considering legislation to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, placing the Washington region in the middle of a national debate over the possible economic impact of such a hike.
County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large), the architect of an unusual 2013 collaboration by Montgomery, the District and Prince George’s County to gradually raise the minimum to $11.50, said he expects to introduce the $15-an-hour bill as early as next week.
Elrich said that while the 2013 increase was an important step, there is now wider recognition that the minimum must be closer to a “living wage.”
“The amount of money a person earns should be sufficient to live on,” Elrich said. “I think there’s a broader understanding that you need to tackle wages to deal with poverty.”
Prince George’s County Council Chairman Derrick Leon Davis (D-Mitchellville) said it is unlikely that his jurisdiction will join the latest effort.
The county, he said, is currently facing too many economic uncertainties to justify another increase. Moreover, nonprofit providers of services to the developmentally disabled are already saying that without more help from the government, they will be unable to keep pace with the current schedule of wage increases.
“Our realities are catching up with us right now,” Davis said. “At this time, it would be imprudent to take another step in that direction.”
The measures in Montgomery and the District come as the “Fight for 15” movement, backed by labor unions and Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders, is gaining momentum.
On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) announced a deal with state lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have also passed laws within the past two years, each with slightly different timetables, to reach a $15 hourly wage.
Last year, more than 130,000 fast-food workers in New York won an increase to $15 that will take effect in New York City at the end of 2018 and statewide in 2021.
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not changed since 2009.
The debate over whether to boost the minimum wage centers on an issue economists have argued over for years: Does a rising wage lead to job loss, ultimately hurting low-income workers more than it helps?
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced her proposal for a $15 minimum wage at her State of the District address March 22.
She said the hike was part of a “bold” plan to make good on her campaign promise to create “pathways to the middle class” for D.C. residents.
Montgomery’s minimum wage is set to rise from $9.55 to $10.75 an hour in July and to $11.50 a year later. A full-time minimum-wage worker earning $15 per hour would have an annual income of about $30,000 — still quite low in a county where the household median is just under $100,000.
Heather Dlhopolsky, chair of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, said a rising minimum wage would add to a growing burden on employers, particularly small businesses, which includes increasing pressure to provide paid family leave and new insurance requirements that are part of the Affordable Care Act.
“I think it all goes to the notion of Montgomery not being business-friendly,” Dlhopolsky said.
Elrich said he did not expect difficulty is assembling a majority to pass his bill, but Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) was more guarded.
“We’re in a tough situation,” she said. “We’re trying to create a positive business climate but also create a place where people can get paid a decent salary. We’re certainly not going to rush into it.”