Members of the Montgomery County Council are preparing to propose a bill that would incrementally raise the county’s minimum wage from $10.75 per hour to $15 per hour by 2020. The bill would slowly increase the minimum wage to $12.50 in 2018, $13.75 in 2019 and then eventually $15 in 2020.
In the past couple of years, a number of large, urban cities and municipalities have passed $15 minimum wage bills, including New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. Though each bill features some differences from each other, the fundamental premise of raising the minimum wage $15 an hour by the year 2020 remains the same.
The introduction of the new bill can in part be attributed to the efforts of down ballot progressive Democrats, such as presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in supporting an increased national minimum wage. Following the Democrats’ defeat on Election Day, county officials decided to accelerate their push for a $15 minimum wage bill that had been in the works since April this year.
The implications of an increase in the minimum wage have been subject to timeless and deeply polarizing debate. County Council member Marc Elrich, who proposed the bill, believes that support for his legislation is not a matter of political ideology, but rather morality. “If you want to make serious social change, it has to start with families being able to put food on the table and roofs over their heads,” Elrich said in an interview with Bethesda Magazine.
Others, like Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, fear the harm that the increase would do to the economy, especially for people looking for jobs. “While there is debate among experts as to the economic impact of an increase in the minimum wage, at least some believe it could lead to businesses moving across local borders, taking tax revenue with them and making it more difficult for local employees to find jobs,” Leggett said in a memo about the bill. He also fears increased costs for employers, such as payroll costs and contract costs.
Some council members are not sure how to feel about the proposed bill. In the Health and Human Services Committee, which will initially review the bill, committee member Craig Rice opposes the bill. County Council President Roger Berliner is asking for outside consultants to study the potential economic impacts the measure would have on his constituents and will hold off his decision until he sees a staff analysis of the bill.
The most vocal opponents of the proposal have been local employers. Peter Pappas, owner of Lawrence Revere Hair Salon in Washington D.C., does not support the minimum wage increase. “First of all, jobs that are typically performed by high school kids, like the ticket taker at a movie theater, should not be paid that much for the work they do,” he said. “Small business owners like myself can only afford to pay so much with payroll taxes, rent, insurance and our other expenses. In my business, if I employ two shampoo people and have to pay them $15 an hour, I’ll either have to reduce to just one employee or cut the hours for both of them. It’s a zero sum game for a small business.”
On the other land, labor unions in the county are strongly in favor of the wage increase, but not all minimum wage workers are so sure it will benefit them. “It should stay low because raising it will cause jobs to relocate to other counties with lower minimum wages,” Walter Johnson High School junior Delaney Gottron said. Gottron earns minimum wage as a camp counselor in Montgomery County during the summer.
The legislation’s future remains murky, but the result of the vote on the proposal will certainly have a dramatic impact both on workers in Montgomery County as well as the economy.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer David Gordon of Walter Johnson High School