Sun wrong on living wage bill

May 07, 2010

The Sun was wrong in 2005 which it opposed making large employers pay for their employees' health care, and The Sun is wrong now in opposing requiring large employers to pay a living wage to their employees ("Another Wal-Mart bill?" May 5). In fact, Maryland's action then put it on the forefront of the national movement toward the recently-passed health reform. Similarly, the Baltimore City legislation proposed by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke would put the city back on the forefront of localities raising the standard of living of low-wage workers.

The Sun editorial supports updating the minimum wage to keep up with inflation. Yet that is all the city living wage does. If the national minimum wage had kept up with inflation since its 1968 peak, it would now be $10.01 per hour; instead it is $7.25. The Baltimore City living wage is now $10.19 per hour. Thus, requiring large employers to pay the city living wage simply amounts to requiring them to pay the minimum wage, properly adjusted for inflation.

The Sun asks, why require only large employers to pay a living wage? For the same reason that the new health insurance mandate applies only to larger employers (those with more than 50 workers). Larger companies can far more easily afford to pay consistently higher wages and benefits than smaller companies and startups, given their economies of scale.

As for the concern about raising the minimum wage during a recession, the truth is that now is the best time to raise wages to spur economic growth and recovery. Moreover, large employers can well afford to pay the living wage. Wal-Mart, for example, makes over $1 billion a month in profit; the company can easily afford to pay the equivalent of the 1968 minimum wage.

If The Sun supported passage of the city's living wage law in 1994 to raise wages and reduce poverty, it should reconsider its opposition to extending that principle to the private sector economy.

Matthew Weinstein, Baltimore

The writer is Baltimore region director of Progressive Maryland.

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