12-31-2017 minimum wageI’m happy to report, as many of you know, that Montgomery County has become a national leader on this issue last month by raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

Last year, the County Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but the County Executive vetoed the bill, and we didn’t have enough votes to override the veto.

Councilmember Marc Elrich and I wrote amendments to tweak the latest legislation, giving more time for smaller employers, nonprofits and health-care providers that rely on Medicaid payments to begin paying $15/hour.

I introduced these amendments at our Nov. 7 session, and the council unanimously passed my amendments and the amended version of the bill. The following week, it was signed into law.  

There are many humane and practical reasons to raise the county’s minimum wage.

The cost of living in Montgomery County is among the highest in the nation. It’s virtually impossible to live on the current minimum wage of $11.50 an hour here. In fact, according to an MIT study, a living wage in Montgomery County for a single adult is $15.80 an hour. For a single parent with one child, it’s $29.82.

That means that raising the minimum hourly wage to $15 is overdue. This increase will provide at least some measure of relief to thousands of our low-income residents. These are our child care workers, our restaurant staff, our health-care workers, our janitors and maids, our hairdressers and manicurists, our retail sales clerks.

These are people who struggle to live paycheck to paycheck, often on the edge of poverty.  

These are real people with real children and real bills to pay: bills for rent, for food, for medicine, for bus fare, for heat and electricity. Most don’t have savings to fall back on. They need every penny they can get in their weekly paycheck.

Studies have shown that raising the minimum wage raises the standard of living for our poorest residents.

And much of the extra money they’ll get in their paychecks will go right back into the local economy — which means a stronger community for everyone.

The council was also sensitive to the concerns of our county’s employers, especially its smaller businesses. That’s why the bill gives them more time to raise their wages and suspends any scheduled wage increases if there’s a recession.

I want to thank the many community groups and labor unions that supported the $15 minimum wage, including CASA, Jews United for Justice, Progressive Maryland, Maryland Working Families Party, Service Employees International Union 32BJ and Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.