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Faith Leaders, Politicians Rally For Minimum Wage Hike

Christopher Connelly/WYPR

A coalition of faith leaders, anti-poverty advocates and workers gathered at St. Vincent DePaul in Baltimore Monday to rally behind efforts to raise Maryland’s minimum wage. In addition to leaders from churches, synagogues and mosques, speakers also included Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Sen. Ben Cardin, and Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“No man or woman should work 16-hour days, play by the rules, work hard, and have to raise their children in poverty,” Gov. Martin O’Malley told the crowd of about 100 people.

O’Malley framed the wage hike as not just a moral issue, but sound economic policy, saying that putting more money in the pockets of working Marylanders will inject more cash into the economy. He also invoked Pope Francis to challenge the idea that making life easier for business owners and the wealthy will trickle down and make life better for low-wage workers, which he called “poppycock.”

The legislation O’Malley has put forward in the General Assembly calls for raising Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016. After that, the wage would be pegged to inflation so it doesn’t lose value over time. An estimated 455,000 Marylanders will see their wages rise as a result.

But Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley says raising the wage will make Maryland less competitive with neighboring states.

“If there’s supposed to be any attempt [to increase minimum wages], it should be done at the federal level, but not something that puts Maryland employers at a disadvantage to Virginia, certainly Pennsylvania, and Delaware and west Virginia,” he said.

Sen. Brinkley says he’s worried raising the minimum wage will make it hard for first-time job seekers to get work.

“The people who will be harmed most by this is the people who won’t be able to get any job,” Brinkley said.

But David Cooper, an analyst at the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, says that economists largely agree that modest increases to the minimum wage have “little to no effect on employment levels.”

Cooper says that fears that a higher minimum wage will make Maryland less competitive are unfounded. That’s because most low wage jobs are in sectors like retail, food service, and hospitality.

“These businesses want to be close to consumers,” Cooper says. “You’re going to put your retail centers close to consumers so they can come and buy your goods. You’re not going to move all the department stores over the border because there’s a lower minimum wage there.”

Cooper has crunched the numbers on the plan to raise the wage to $10.10. He says it’ll help Maryland by adding about $456 million dollars to the state’s economy, which will likely add jobs.

Kevin Wheeler, a bartender at BWI Thurgood Marshal Airport, says raising the wage would mean more security and more time with his daughter, who lives in North Carolina.

“There have been times when I have not been able to go see her because I couldn’t afford it because my wage is so low,” he says.

Wheeler says it can be a struggle just to put gas in his car to get to work. There have been weeks he’s worried about not having enough food. He says raising the minimum wage to $10.10 will help, but would like to see a minimum wage closer to $15 an hour to the minimum wage into a living wage.

Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.