U.S. Rep. and Prince George's County native Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) called for an increase in the minimum wage, pay equity between men and women and greater family and sick leave benefits for workers during a stop at Bowie City Hall on Monday.
Hoyer held a forum on his "Working Families" agenda at which state and local officials discussed the challenges facing those trying to make a living and care for their families at the same time.
"A lot of people in America and around the world are not sure they're going to make it or they're not sure their families are going to make it," Hoyer said. "They're economically stressed and their hopes for the future are not as bright as they would like them to be. That's why we're talking about working families and what working families need."
Hoyer co-hosted the event along with U.S Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia). The panel that discussed the economic issues facing working families included Dr. Heidi Shierholz, Chief Economist for the Dept. of Labor, Melissa Broome of the Job Opportunities Task Force, State Sen. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery) and Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel).
Hoyer said that when he spoke at an event in Baltimore recently about manufacturing jobs helping the middle class, people talked about how more consumer items need to say "Made In America" on them.
" 'Made in America' is what we did yesterday," he said. " 'Make it in America' is what we're doing today and what we're going to do tomorrow. Not only does it mean manufacturing, it also means acing the test, winning the game, getting the job, making it in America."
He plans to promote his working families agenda that will "boost wages, help workers create a better balance between work and family and level the playing field for working families," he said. "We are determined to make sure the jobs of the 21st century come with access to a dream for the 21st century, too."
Raising the minimum wage is one of the cornerstones of Hoyer's agenda. The minimum wage for non-exempt worker will rise to $8.75 in Maryland on Friday (July 1), with further increases bringing the figure to $10.10 by 2018. However, the federal minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour.
The costs associated with increasing the minimum wage are less than one might think, Shierholz said, because better wages means less turnover and turnover is expensive to employers because of the down time created and the training costs incurred.
She also argued that raising the minimum wage would boost the economy.
"All of this is good for the economy because you're shifting money into the hands of people who are very likely to have no other choice but to immediately spend that money," she said.
Hoyer is also concerned about gender pay equity affecting working families because in so many of those cases, both parents work.
In Maryland, an equal-pay-for-equal-work bill passed during the lastGeneral Assembly session, but the problem still exists in many places. The gap is particularly marked for minority women, Lee cited statistics showing that women make about 85 center for every dollar, but for Asian-American women, it's 82 cents, for African-American women it's 69 cents and for Latino women, it's 47 cents.
"Even though our state fares better than the national average, any wage gap is very unequal and is unacceptable," she said.
Hoyer and other lawmakers also would like to see more compassion from employers in regard to sick leave or family medical leave related to pregnancies or the illness of a child.
A bill requiring employers with at least 15 workers to provide paid sick leave for employees passed in the Maryland House of Delegates this spring, but failed in the Senate. Currently, only four states mandate such a benefit.
"The U.S. lags behind other high-income countries in proving paid parental leave," said Pena-Melnyk. "One hundred and eighty-five (countries) guarantee it, but not us. Shame on us. We could do a lot better. We say were so powerful, we're so great, but were not doing it right."