Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, too often American workers have had too few supports to ensure they can work, take care of their families, and thrive. Stagnating wages and rising costs for healthcare, housing, higher education, and childcare are making it harder for families to get by. As Maryland focuses on the economic recovery from this global health crisis, we must be guided by principles of economic justice that will support workers and families.
Every industrialized country in the world except for the U.S. offers paid family leave. In spring 2020, the first coronavirus relief package included paid leave. But a limited group of workers was eligible, and it expired in December. Eight states and the District of Columbia have closed the gap by offering paid family leave through employee-paid payroll taxes. In all of these jurisdictions, you can take leave to care for a newborn or adopted child, a seriously ill family member, or your own serious health condition. Unfortunately, Maryland is not one of those states. It’s past time to change that.
Under a 2019 law, the minimum wage in Maryland is scheduled to slowly climb up 75 cents a year until it reaches $15 in 2025. But the minimum wage for tipped employees is stuck at $3.63 per hour! Farmworkers and youth workers are also exempt from the minimum wage increase. Maryland should ensure all of its workers can make ends meet.
Study after study shows that high-quality childcare and universal pre-kindergarten (pre-K) improve outcomes for children. Yet the costs for childcare have been skyrocketing. In some areas, families may spend as much on childcare as they do on housing. Universal pre-K and high-quality, affordable, easy-to-find childcare eases burdens for families and gives parents, especially mothers, more options.
Maryland already recognizes the value of these supports for children and families by offering free pre-K to families from low-income backgrounds. But far too few slots exist in high-quality pre-K programs, creating a barrier for many families who would otherwise qualify for these programs. Maryland must continue to expand access to existing pre-K programs while innovating new solutions to providing universal access to affordable, high-quality childcare.
These are just a few economic justice issues that must be at the forefront of our economic recovery agenda.