By Lauren Loricchio, Capital News Service
For minimum wage workers like Yvonne Tyree, a 59-year-old Silver Spring resident who was recently laid off from her job at McDonald’s, raising the minimum wage is long overdue.
“It was real hard working hard paycheck to paycheck. I never made enough for rent,” said Tyree, who worked for the fast food restaurant for nine years before that franchise location closed.
According to a U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report, Maryland is the fifth most expensive state to live in.
But Maryland falls behind other states when it comes to minimum wage, said Matthew Hanson, program coordinator for Raise Maryland, an advocacy group that champions increasing the minimum wage. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have set a higher minimum wage, while New York lawmakers recently boosted their wage above the federal minimum.
Maryland’s minimum wage workers earn the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour or roughly $15,000 a year for a full-time employee. The wage was last increased in 2009 from $6.55 an hour.
“If minimum wage had kept pace since 1968 it would be $10.74 today,” Hanson said.
Raise Maryland supports a new version of the bill that would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 and ensure that it rises with the cost of living in 2017.
“Most of these people have children and families. It’s very difficult to support a single person let alone a family on minimum wage,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s County), who sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage in the House of Delegates last legislative session.
The bill would have increased the minimum wage to $10 by 2015. But faced with opposition from businesses and lawmakers, the measure was voted down by an 8-3 vote in the Senate Finance Committee.
President Obama proposed to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour in his State of the Union address earlier this year. But Capitol Hill legislation that would have set the increase in motion was defeated by a unanimous House Republican vote in March.
Low wages have forced some workers to turn to organizations like Mid-County United Ministries, a Montgomery County nonprofit that provides financial assistance, to supplement their income.
“We help people who are struggling to make ends meet and are living in one of the most expensive counties in the nation,” said Larry White, executive director of the organization.
But legislators from both parties feared raising the minimum wage would burden struggling businesses in a weak economy.
Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard), a member of the Senate Finance Committee who cast a vote against the bill, says he did so because a minimum wage increase would make it difficult for businesses and young workers.
“When you increase the minimum wage you make it more difficult for young kids looking for jobs,” he said, “We need to focus our efforts on getting people the skills they need to get entry level jobs.”
“Anytime you raise the minimum wage it affects small businesses, “ Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D- Charles County), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said.
But some business owners disagree saying they welcome the increase. Brian England, owner of British American Auto Care in Columbia, says it would be better for business.
England, who employs 19 part-time and full-time workers, says smart business owners know the value of employee retention.
"It's a lot of work to employ people, so it pays to treat them well," England said.
England says forcing minimum wage workers to rely on a social safety net is “fundamentally not right.”
Despite opposition from some, supporters of the raise are optimistic it will pass in the next legislative session.
"There are currently 25 co-sponsors in the Senate and 58 in the House of Delegates," Hanson said. “This is an issue that really has incredible support across the state.”