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State Lawmakers Consider Minimum Wage Hike

Rachel Baye

A state House committee is considering a bill gradually raising Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in the next five years. Local leaders, business owners and labor union representatives came to express their support for the bill.

Whitney Palmer owns a veterinary clinic in Berlin, Maryland. Bridget Dumais, with the Fight for Fifteen Coalition advocacy group, read a letter Palmer wrote in support of a higher minimum wage to the House Economic Matters Committee.

“When people have to work more than one job because they cannot sustain themselves on one low-wage job, it can increase issues with mental health and physical burnout,” Dumais read from Palmer’s letter. “This means they will be less focused, less productive and less friendly with customers.”

She wrote that the higher wage will also increase consumer spending.

Montgomery County has already begun its own phase-in of a $15 minimum wage. County Executive Marc Elrich told the committee that the change has been a boon for business.

“Since we raised the minimum wage, employment has gone up, unemployment has gone down, and the doom and gloom predicted in 2013 did not materialize,” he said.

Low-wage jobs force the county to spend more on social services, like food and housing assistance, he added.

But Del. Steve Arentz, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, said he is concerned about the impact on small businesses, especially in rural areas.

“For us, this is going to be a major heartbreak,” Arentz said. “Most of our business is retail or farming, and when you start looking at those businesses, if the people, don’t have the disposable income, it’s really tough and we’re going to be raising prices.”

He asked if the proponents of the bill would be OK with allowing an exception for the Eastern Shore. However, they said the change needs to occur statewide to have the best impact.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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