Ever interested in the region’s troubled youth — although usually in the context of a police crackdown on them — Del. Pat McDonough says he wants Maryland to adopt a “training wage” of $7.25 an hour for businesses of 100 workers or fewer. If the Maryland General Assembly raises the state minimum wage to the proposed $10.10 next year as many hope, he believes a state training wage would encourage businesses to hire more entry-level workers, as they wouldn’t have to be paid the minimum wage until they’ve been on the job for six months.Why the Republican delegate representing portions of Baltimore and Harford counties doesn’t simply propose an even lower wage — call it the “youth internship” wage — isn’t clear. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact he’s not proposing an exemption for young people or first-time hires only, but essentially for all who walk in the door. Apparently, the 50-year-old laid off steel fabricator might as well earn the same poverty-level wage at the local fast-food joint as the high school junior looking to buy his first car.Too bad for the delegate the federal minimum wage would seem to prevent going even lower. A so-called “opportunity wage” of at least $4.25 can be imposed under the Federal Labor Standards Act, but only for employees under age 20 and only for 90 days and not to displace any other worker. Maryland also currently offers a slew of minimum wage exemptions — for workers under 16 working less than 20 hours per week, agriculture workers, those who earn tips, etc.
The problem with the current $7.25 an hour wage is actually much simpler: It isn’t your father’s minimum wage. To offer the equivalent of a minimum wage of 40 years ago, it has to be raised to something in the neighborhood of $10 per hour. That’s why Maryland and other states have such an impetus to move in that direction, particularly now that the economy appears capable of sustained growth and is producing record profits.