The Case for a Living Wage.



I recognize that many people think of the $15 minimum wage proposal in Montgomery County as another example of "Progressives Gone Wild". Allow me to dispel that notion.

Over the past month, I have met and interviewed dozens of students at Montgomery College who are responsible for paying their own tuition. Many of them are phenomenal students, maintaining GPAs of 3.5 and above. Yet they struggle with paying tuition because they do not qualify for grants, as their parents have middle class incomes in the county and region where cost-of-living are some of the highest in the country. Many of the students work minimum-wage jobs as much as 30 or 40 hours a week in order to afford their college expenses and tuition. Those long work hours keep them away from their studies and also inhibit both their enthusiasm and confidence when it came to applying to four year higher learning institutions. This is because many are not sure how they will afford to continue their future educations. Seven out of every 10 of the students I spoke to were young women, nearly all of whom were often paid less than their male peer. More often than not, they belonged to a minority background. However, many of them were young white women, as well.  

Montgomery County cannot continue to be one of the most desirable places to live, work and grow up if our young people have to sacrifice their higher education goals in order to just financially survive. I recognize that many small businesses and retailers will argue that they will need  to choose between hiring a young person or persons of color who has less experience any person of non-minority background with slightly more experience, should there be an increase in our county's minimum wage. However, I am not convinced that any county as pluralistic and diverse as our own that employers will shun those potential employees with the greatest need if they can do the work.

My father was a small business owner who employed a workforce at his company that often time was made up exclusively of minorities for 20 years. I remember hearing French, Spanish, Albanian, Turkish, Punjabi, and Hindi/Urdu on a regular basis when visiting his office. I asked him what he thought of a $15 minimum wage, his answer: it is a moral requirement in our day and age. 

We cannot pretend that living in our county has not become a great deal more expensive since when I was a boy. Whether or not these costs are relatively higher or even lower than comparable other regions is not relevant. What is relevant is the absolute reality that to live comfortably in our region now costs more than $80,000 a year in salary. Working-class and middle-class families are being denied a comfortable standard of living because they are being priced out. We need a living wage. 15 dollars an hour is a good start.