Remember when a hot dog and a soda cost 39 cents? Yeah, neither do we.
We all know that restaurant prices rise nearly every year with inflation. The cost of everything from groceries to gas to rent rises, too. But many workers have not seen their wages rise in years, leaving them straining to make ends meet on paychecks that keep getting smaller relative to the cost of living.
For our neighbors in Maryland, the minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum, and the minimum cash wage for tipped workers is woefully low at $3.63 per hour (though higher than the federal floor of $2.13 per hour). If the minimum wage had risen with inflation over the past several decades, it would be close to $10.60 per hour today. But neither the minimum wage nor the tipped minimum wage is linked to inflation in Maryland, so the purchasing power of these extremely low wages erodes further each year.
Today, full-time minimum wage earnings in Maryland amount to just $14,500 annually – more than $3,600 below the federal poverty line for a mom with two children. Women represent over 60 percent of the workers struggling to get by on the minimum wage in Maryland, and people of color are disproportionately represented among the minimum wage workforce as well.
But there is good news on the horizon. Maryland lawmakers are about to introduce a bill to gradually raise the Maryland minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.00 per hour, set the tipped minimum wage at 70 percent of the minimum wage, and index both wages to keep pace with inflation.
This wage increase would make a real difference to low-wage workers in Maryland. Full-time, year-round minimum wage workers would see their annual pay rise to $20,000 – a $5,500 increase, enough to lift a family of three above the poverty line. Tipped workers could see their wages increase by $6,740. This income boost would help workers support themselves and their families. Indexing the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage to inflation will ensure that these gains are not erased as the cost of living rises. And these workers’ greater (though still quite modest) purchasing power would also benefit the Maryland economy by funneling more dollars into local businesses, generating new economic activity and job growth.
In addition, higher pay for thousands of women in Maryland could help close the persistent gap between women’s and men’s earnings in the state. In 2011, Maryland women working full time, year round were paid only 86 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.
Delegate Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s County) and Senator Robert Garagiola (D-Montgomery County) plan to introduce the minimum wage bill shortly. For thousands of working women and their families in Maryland, a raise can’t come soon enough.