Citing the amount of money needed to live in Montgomery County, a county councilman has proposed increasing the county’s minimum wage to $12 per hour.
Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) of Takoma Park announced last week that he plans to introduce the bill, which would apply to county businesses.
“People can’t live on a minimum wage,” Elrich said Tuesday.
Most employers in Montgomery currently must meet the requirements of the federal minimum wage, which since 2009 has been set at $7.25 an hour.
The Washington, D.C., metropolitan region is one of the most expensive in the country.
According to a report from the Maryland Community Action Partnership cited in a release from Elrich’s office, a single adult in the county would need to make $17.07 per hour to be economically self-sufficient.
A family of four would need two adults each making $19.62 per hour, while an adult with one child would have to earn $30.59 an hour.
Montgomery County is a great place to live if you can afford it, but it’s almost impossible for poor people to live here, Elrich said.
As a result, county taxpayers end up paying for costs such as free or reduced-price lunch for schoolchildren, subsidized housing or health care that should be covered by a person’s salary, he said.
Elrich said he doubts any of his colleagues on the council would say that $7.25 an hour is a reasonable salary in Montgomery.
“We need to future out what’s the right number,” he said.
He said he’s gotten some questions from other council members, such as whether employers that help pay employees’ health insurance costs should be allowed to pay below the $12 figure, or whether companies that employ high school students should be subject to the increased wage.
“I’m willing to have a discussion about [the details of the proposal],” Elrich said.
Increasing Maryland’s minimum wage has drawn support from politicians including Rep. John Delaney (D-Dist. 6) of Potomac and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who is pursuing the Democratic nomination for governor.
It would be difficult for Montgomery County businesses to make the change if surrounding counties don’t, raising the possibility of businesses leaving Montgomery for other counties, said Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.
She noted that businesses could also leave Maryland for surrounding states if the state increased its minimum wage law.
Balcombe said the chamber was still in the process of getting feedback from its members on Elrich’s proposal and hasn’t taken a position on it.
Elrich said local wages should be tied to actual local costs of living, rather than trying to set one wage for the entire state.
“Montgomery County is not the rest of the state of Maryland,” he said.
Most businesses in the county already pay more than $12 an hour, and the county should work to keep it that way, Elrich said.
“We have no business attracting businesses that pay less than $12 an hour,” he said.