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Opinion

Minimum Wage Law Would Put Inequality On Agenda

In a few days, the old joke about fearing for virtually everything will make the rounds once again. Your house, your cow, your wife – nothing is safe because the legislature is in session.

Quite the opposite should be and usually is true. We live in a complicated society. Many aspects of life must come before the assembled senators and delegates. According to political lore, 2014 should leave us relatively unscathed. It’s an election year. Our representatives will try to avoid anything the voters might remember unhappily when they go to the polls.

However, some issues will demand attention. The minimum wage for example.  Increasing it would allow the state a modest role in addressing income inequality. I speak of the vanishing middle class. Maryland is one of the richest states in the nation. It also has pockets of grinding poverty.

It’s not just wealth we are talking about. The 99-1 ratio means uneven distribution of political power. Other important matters follow in train. The job market for well-educated young people tightens. Workers across the board are squeezed wages fall in a struggling economy.

There may be little a state General Assembly can do.  But the minimum wage represents an important gesture.  The three Democratic candidates for governor in 2014 favor increasing the figure.  Del. Heather Mizeur wants a big bump -- $16.70. Less driven for attention, her democratic opponents, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler want $10.10. Gov. Martin O’Malley, apparently for tactical reasons, has not offered a figure. President Obama has asked for $10.10, so the preferred target is pretty clear.

We need a vigorous debate – if only to get the larger issue of inequality on the public agenda.

Your comments are welcome at fsmith@wypr.org