Marc Elrich on Minimum Wage Vote
“We have a lot to be thankful for today, on the eve of Thanksgiving. We have taken a significant leap forward in the battle to ensure that all of our friends and neighbors in Montgomery County can share in the economic prosperity that many of us take for granted. I am proud of the regional approach we have embraced with our neighbors in Prince George’s County and the District of Columbia. I applaud their courage and commitment to raising wages for our most vulnerable residents now. They are not waiting for leadership, but demonstrating it by leading the region, state and country.
“The final bill we passed today isn’t perfect, but it is meaningful and important. Our residents will see a real and significant increase in the money they earn for their hard day’s labor. That money is most likely to be spent locally, at grocery stores, restaurants and small businesses. At my request we have made accommodations for local restaurants, keeping the base tipped wage at its current state level, but requiring businesses to make up the difference to our county’s new minimum wage if their workers don’t make enough in tips to take home a decent wage. This ensures that we don’t leave those hardworking folks behind, but we also make sure we don’t put an unnecessary burden on our local small businesses, in particular.
“At a time when Wall Street is setting new record highs and corporate profits are doing quite well, the challenges facing the poor—along with working and middle class families—are only growing larger. Persistent poverty is the reflection of the persistence of low wages in our economy. We have tens of thousands of working people who, despite getting up and going to work every day, do not earn wages that are sufficient to lift them out of poverty. As a result, working people are forced, at best, to rely on the government to provide programs to support their housing, medical and food needs. At worst, people simply do without adequate housing, health care and nutrition. Their employers have effectively shifted a portion of what should be their labor costs onto taxpayers—both individual taxpayers as well as the majority of private sector companies who pay a living wage or higher.
“In our region, the impact of low wages is especially harsh. We have one of the highest cost of living levels in the country, with housing costs leading the way. When a self-sufficiency budget was developed for Montgomery County through the work of the Maryland Community Action Partnership, it found that a single adult in Montgomery County would need a wage of $17.07 per hour to support themselves; a family of four with two adults would require that each adult earn $19.62 an hour; and a single adult with one child would need to earn $30.59 per hour. Not only were these numbers the highest in the State, but they are higher than what is needed in San Francisco and New York City. The cost of living in the D.C. Metro area is significantly higher than in most of the country—and it requires a wage level that is more closely attuned to our local conditions.
“With today’s vote, we have not only increased the amount of money in the pockets of local workers, but research shows increasing the minimum wage leads to less employment turnover. It means more stability in the lives of the families of those earning minimum wage. It means a decreased likelihood of losing your housing or being forced to move, which means less mobility in our schools. I can tell you as a former school teacher that is a good thing. When kids are constantly uprooted from one school and neighborhood to another because of their parents’ job instability, it hurts their chances of success in school and overtaxes the schools and teachers who try to engage them. So in addition to the clear benefits both to families and to local businesses of increasing low-wage workers’ income, a reduction in employment turnover may well translate into a more stability in our neighborhoods and schools, as well as decreased reliance on taxpayer-funded social services, which is better for all of us in the long run.
“For those who encouraged us to be cautious and wait to see what would be done at the state or national level, I remind you of the mantra ‘think globally, act locally.’ We have stricter air quality standards and higher fuel efficiency because California enacted those regulations first and then the rest of the nation followed. As Delegate Tom Hucker stated in a letter to me last week, ‘It is abundantly clear that passage of a higher minimum wage in Montgomery County (and Prince George’s County) will only increase the likelihood that the General Assembly will pass a statewide increase in the minimum wage, possibly significantly so.’
“I am especially thankful today for my co-sponsors of this legislation, Council President Nancy Navarro and Councilmember Valerie Ervin, whose early and strong leadership made this possible. I am particularly grateful for the support of our community partners, many of whom are here today. You took time out of your days, your evenings and weekends, to lobby us, rally your friends and neighbors, and advocate with passion and compassion so we could do what is right for residents of our county. Thank you for helping make passage of this bill a reality.
“This issue is about people, our neighbors who work hard every day to put food on the table and keep a roof over their families’ heads. We are not only morally obligated to care about the working poor in our community, but we have a vested economic interest in doing so. Poverty and injustice begets more of the same. I am proud of the work we have done here today and applaud my colleagues for their engagement on this important issue. Our work is not done, but I hope this first step will give many something concrete to be thankful and hopeful for this holiday season.”