Fighting for a $15 minimum wage in Montgomery County is a major piece in the progress toward a society of full economic justice.
/By Jheanelle Wilkins/ Economic justice is a requisite for advancing social and racial justice. In particular, raising the minimum wage has long been part of the agenda for equality and opportunity in America. During the 1963 March on Washington, the call for higher wages was one of ten demands developed by the coalition of civil rights, labor and faith organizations who led the March. Today, an even broader group of activists -- from Black Lives Matter to Bernie Sanders’ new group, Our Revolution -- are part of the national #Fightfor15.
In Montgomery County, a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15, linked to the Consumer Price Index, is being considered by the County Council. The National Employment Law Project estimates that over 106,000 workers would benefit from raising the minimum wage in Montgomery County. Women and people of color, who face formidable barriers to economic prosperity, would greatly benefit from this increase in the minimum wage.
These groups are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs. And according to the Restaurant Opportunity Center, 70 percent of tipped workers are people of color and nearly 60 percent are women.
Add that to the fact that more women than men in Montgomery County live in poverty. In addition, when we take a close look at the poverty rate in Montgomery County, it more than triples for African Americans and Latinos compared to white residents. It’s not hard to see why the fight of the 1960s is now the fight of 2016. The #Fightfor15 is a modern-day civil rights fight for equality and justice. Raising the minimum wage is vital to improving the lives and opportunities for people of color and women in Montgomery County.
The grueling work of our neighbors -- our salesmen and women, waiters and waitresses, maintenance staff, and the men and women who provide support in taking care of our families deserve the dignity of a $15 wage.
A $15 minimum wage is justice.
Montgomery County led the state several years ago in raising the minimum wage and we can do it again. Contact your County Councilmembers and urge them to vote favorably for a minimum wage linked to the Consumer Price Index that includes tipped workers.
The #Fightfor15 is an important step towards a livable wage and greater opportunity for struggling workers in our community. However, in order to truly level the playing field for women and communities of color, it’s vital that we also tackle earned sick leave, criminal justice reform, educational equity, health disparities and other barriers that lead to lack of opportunity and disparate rates of poverty in our County and statewide.
Jheanelle Wilkins is a social justice advocate working on local, state, and national policies. She lives in Silver Spring.