Fifteen dollars is nearly double the federal minimum wage, the lowest amount an American employer can pay his employees each hour. But as that wage floor has stagnated amid years of inaction in Congress, cities and states have pushed their own minimum wages higher.
After the ever-growing Fight for 15 movement began putting that figure on the map, Seattle enacted the country’s first $15 minimum wage, which was then followed by cities in California, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as Washington, DC. Then the whole states of New York and California got in the game.
Yet those victories have mostly been concentrated in places with higher incomes and costs of living. The latest entrant to the movement is different: Baltimore, Maryland.
On Monday, the Baltimore city council passed legislation that will raise its wage floor to $15 an hour by 2022. It’s the first such victory for the Fight for 15 movement this year.
Maryland’s current minimum wage of $8.75 is already set to rise to $10.10 by 2018, so the city’s would keep rising after that, although companies with fewer than 50 employees would have until 2026. It exempts workers under 21 years of age.
While Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) has yet to say whether she will sign it or veto it — although she backed it during her campaign — the measure has enough support for an override vote.
Pugh’s biggest concern appears to be worries over cost, given that her spokesman cited “the fiscal impact of this increase on the city’s budget” as one of the factors she will consider. But there’s little evidence that minimum wages hurt economies or cost jobs, while there is evidence that they increase people’s incomes and therefore a city’s tax base.
And while the bill’s lead sponsor, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, said she understands “how people have objections,” she said the minimum wage increase is a first step in “correcting decades of injustice” for the city’s lowest paid residents.
Baltimore’s economy still lags behind many other cities. It has a nearly 24 percent poverty rate while median income is just $42,241 a year, compared to $50,000 in L.A., nearly $71,000 in DC, and over $81,000 in San Francisco.
There is also a large racial income gap within the city: black residents earned a median income of just over $58,000 in 2013, while white ones made $68,000. The city has a long history of housing segregation, which has meant many black families have long been trapped in poor neighborhoods with little access to better paying jobs.