ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's minimum wage earners say they need a raise and some state lawmakers agree.
A bill that would increase the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 by 2015 was taken up Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee.
"Someone making minimum wage, working full time, is earning a little more than $15,000 a year, which is probably barely enough to get a two-bedroom apartment, let alone food and clothing," said state Sen. Robert Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat who is sponsoring the legislation.
Opponents of the measure argue that a wage increase would drive up employer costs, causing higher prices for consumers and possible layoffs.
"If someone receives an hourly wage increase but works fewer hours, or loses their job entirely, as a result then they could be worse off than before," said Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute. He said the group estimates Maryland could lose 2,700 to 8,000 jobs because of the measure.
Supporters of the legislation counter that a minimum wage increase would not only help Maryland workers but also jolt the state's economy.
"When you increase wages for nearly 500,000 Marylanders, we are putting cash in their pockets," Garagiola said. "They're not likely to spend that out of state on a boat. They are more likely to buy basic needs to live, and those basic needs will be bought in Maryland. Some studies show that it can help inject nearly half a billion dollars into the Maryland economy."
Nathaly Uribe, 17, a Glen Burnie resident who receives slightly more than the minimum wage at her job at Chik-fil-A, hopes the increase measure passes.
"I had to start working in order to help my parents," Uribe said. "This affects various aspects of my life. It could determine whether or not I will be able to pay my first semester of college."
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federally mandated $7.25 per hour.
"This bill would be devastating to my business," said Walt Clocker, owner of Angel's Food Market in Pasadena. "A business like ours has a certain number of labor dollars that we can pay based on our sales. If the legislature arbitrarily raises the hourly rate, that's that many fewer hours that I can put in my schedule. At the very least, people are getting fewer hours and may actually be losing jobs."
Raise Maryland, a group advocating for an increase in Maryland's minimum wage, announced support on Thursday from Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce and more than 70 Maryland businesses, who signed onto a letter of support organized by Maryland Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.
Walmart employee Lana Stewart, 49, also hopes the measure passes and that her hourly wage of $8.80 is increased.
"An increase would help me to get my own place, instead of living with my daughter," Stewart said.
The measure would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from 50 percent to 70 percent of the full minimum wage. It also would adjust the minimum wage annually with the cost of living.
A similar minimum wage bill, introduced by Delegate Alisha Braveboy, a Prince George's County Democrat, awaits a vote by the House Economic Matters Committee.
Last month, President Barack Obama called for the minimum wage to be increased to $9 an hour In his State of the Union address.