With all of the flurry over the increased minimum wage – from the marketing appeal of an impressive-looking double-digit number to the downright attractive-sounding and memorable “$10.10” – I can’t help but wonder if we might be missing the bigger picture.
Supporters of the increase say that it will benefit millions of people in Maryland – that when we have more change in our pockets, we will spend more, and that spending more will be good for the economy. Opponents of the increase say that it will ultimately cost the state through thousands of lost jobs and that it will cut back on the ability of Maryland businesses to be competitive in the greater marketplace.
But, with or without an increase in the minimum wage, the new “$10.10” is still well below what a ‘living wage’ is calculated to be for people residing in Baltimore City. If you are the only member of your household in Baltimore City, a living wage estimated on an hourly rate is $11.24. If there is a child in your household that you are financially responsible for, the living wage hourly rate goes up to $22.88. With two children in your household, it’s $27.71. You get the picture. Even with an increase in the minimum wage, in Baltimore it’s still going to be difficult to put food on the table and to meet your basic monthly expenses on a minimum-wage salary.
The bigger picture is that a number of employers, including well-known corporations, are paying professionally skilled employees just at the minimum wage level. I’m not just talking about the ubiquitous fast food industry or the consistently underpaid child care and teaching professions, but also about professions that require specially trained, knowledgeable staff, such as certified health care professionals to work in hospitals, pharmacies, continuing care and hospice communities, and home health care agencies.
Caroline Center alumnae are among the working professionals and heads of households in Baltimore City who are healthcare professionals working as certified/geriatric nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians – and, who are not making a living wage. In fact, data shows that the average hourly wage at placement for a Caroline Center alumna in 2013 was just $11.27 – just pennies above the calculated living wage for a single adult and head of household. Many Caroline Center alumnae are heads of households with one or more children. Even more troubling than the low pay scale is that employers often set required working hours just below the minimum number of hours needed for employees to earn essential benefits, such as health care and paid sick leave – a factor that works strongly against employee retention, not to mention promotion.
Caroline Center has long been committed to raising women up and leveling the competitive employment playing field by providing access to an excellent tuition-free educational program for highly capable women who would otherwise not be able to afford it and by opening up the possibility for women to have meaningful careers with the opportunity for advancement.
Caroline Center is also committed to raising women up by ensuring that its alumnae, who are among the best qualified and most-in-demand certified nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians in the state, will have the opportunity to pursue advanced degrees and additional professional certifications through our new Alumnae Academic and Career Advancement Program.
Maybe most importantly, Caroline Center is committed to raising women up by striving to match our highly qualified alumnae with employers who are willing to set their wage scales and benefits at levels that respect the exceptional professionals they hope to hire.
If truth be told, women hold up more than half the sky – and, Caroline Center alumnae are part of this strong sisterhood.
Let’s hope that, working together, we will have what it takes to help more women move from “meaningful careers with the opportunity for advancement” to truly sustainable careers that will lift us all.