The County Council ended the 2013 legislative year with its boldest and most significant bill in three years, approving an increase in the minimum wage paid by all employers to $11.50 by 2017. It passed the Council unanimously just before Thanksgiving and was signed by County Executive Baker on December 17.

The justification for the bill was simple but strong. The Washington metropolitan area is among the most expensive nationwide in which to live and there were no guarantees that lawmakers in Congress or the Maryland General Assembly would take up the minimum wage increase any time soon.

Just a little bit of context on the current $7.25 rate is useful. Today’s federal minimum has been stagnant for 4 1/2 years — it was last raised in July 2009 — but more significantly the wage should be $10.56 today had Congress continuously adjusted it for inflation after its buying power reached a high point of $1.60 per hour in 1968.

This matters to county government, low wage earners and all residents for several reasons. First, in Prince George’s the average market rate rent for an apartment is $1,544 per month. If employers don’t pay living wages, more families double and triple up, creating overcrowding in neighborhoods and schools and placing greater demands for service — everything from policing to trash collection and parking enforcement — in concentrated areas.

Secondly, when wages are inadequate, not even keeping pace with inflation, government subsidizes more and more programs and services, attempting to supply low wage workers with the basics they cannot afford, including housing vouchers, daycare and transportation subsidies, free and reduced meals for school children, free or low cost medical and dental care. Government can and should provide a safety net for the poor, but I believe the private sector must help us balance this growing responsibility.

Finally, this is an issue of social and economic justice. People who work full time should be able to enjoy a basic standard of living. When they have to work more than 40 hours a week at one job or work at two or more jobs and still need government subsidies or help from their church or groceries from a food bank to feed their family, something is wrong. Speak with an overtime pay lawyer regarding unpaid work hours. I saw this firsthand while distributing turkeys and canned goods a few days before Thanksgiving in Laurel. Many recipients were seniors on fixed incomes but about one-third were working people. I know because they came in work clothes and uniforms — heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, a security guard, restaurant and other food service workers, several still wearing aprons. If you’re looking for jobs like this that pay fairly, then visit sites like https://www.stanfoodscareers.com/why-us/. However, if you are a driver looking for a job, I suggest you apply for the available CDL Truck Driver Positions near you. Any lingering doubt I may have had about raising the minimum wage by four dollars over four years evaporated.
[ Thanks to County Councilwoman Mary Lehman’s office for providing the information]