An online journal of politics, policy, and society with a special focus on Maryland -- Contact: on_background at yahoo.com.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Living Wage

WTOP carried an AP piece on the ongoing fight in Maryland for decent wages that people can really live on.

Advocates for immigrants say many domestic workers in Montgomery County are little more than modern-day slaves.

The group, Casa de Maryland, is asking the Montgomery County Council to enact legislation that would establish a living wage of at least $10.50 an hour for domestic workers, as well as paid holidays, vacation time, sick leave and family and medical leave time.

Not only are Marylanders who make six, seven, eight, or even nine dollars an hour struggling to get by, struggling to feed their families. They are forced to rely on public support to survive. So beyond the human tragedy of hard working people without enough to support their families, corporations are being artificially subsidized so that they do not have to pay decent wages, as Maryland and local governments are forced to make up the difference.

In Montana, State Senator Ken Toole is trying to do something about corporations that pay so little that they force their employees onto welfare and other forms of public support. If they don't pay living wages, then they should have to pay for the support the government gives to their employees. He writes:

That giant sucking sound you hear coming from the edge of town is the sound of money being taken out of your community by big box stores. They pay low wages, have a lot of part-time workers, don’t pay benefits and don’t use local businesses for services. They drive sprawl development and increase the cost of local infrastructure from streets to sewers. They corner the local retail market in everything from moth balls to Milk Duds, bundle up the money and send it back to their corporate office in some distant skyscraper. Your local furniture store, appliance dealer, pharmacy and even the smaller grocery chains cannot compete against the big box and its ability to squeeze a nickel from workers, contractors and suppliers.

Box storeowners are quick to point out that retailing is a low-margin business and stores live close to the edge in the competitive market. While this is true, the low-margin, high-volume approach to retailing generates huge profits for only a very few people sitting at the top. Five of the richest people in the world are members of the founding family of Wal-Mart. In 2004 Fortune Magazine listed the Walton family fortune at $100 billion. The Walton family can afford to pay a living wage – they choose not to.

It’s bad enough that workers in these stores are struggling to make ends meet but that’s only part of the story. You and I pick up the tab when a box store doesn’t pay its workers a living wage. Congressman George Miller recently released a detailed study of the cost of Wal-Mart to communities in California. That study estimated that a Wal-Mart store with 200 employees cost federal taxpayers $420,000 per year or about $2,000 per employee in public services ranging from healthcare to housing. Box stores shift their labor costs onto the rest of us.

So, why not ask these big box stores to put money into the community and help out local small business at the same time?


If Wal-Mart and other big box stores don’t want to pay the tax, all they have to do is pay their workers a little more. They can afford it and we should demand it.