A Challenge to Our Nation's Mayors: You Can Raise the Wage

Activist Paulette Darow rings a cow bell as protestors listen to speeches at the Greater Bethel AME Church in support of rais
Activist Paulette Darow rings a cow bell as protestors listen to speeches at the Greater Bethel AME Church in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of an expanding national movement known as Fight for 15, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Nearly a year ago, the eyes of the world turned to Baltimore City.

On TV sets across the nation, people caught a glimpse of how poverty can ravage a community. How inequality of opportunity can leave a lasting mark on the families in urban America.

Baltimore may have brought these struggles to the fore. But no older American city can escape the wrenching effects of inter-generational poverty.

In 2014, Maryland passed a law to raise the state minimum wage, which now sits at $8.25 an hour and will gradually increase to $10.10 by 2018. But in Baltimore City, where the price of living continues to rise, our residents are still struggling -- with 1 out of every 4 people living below the federal poverty line of $20,090 for a family of three and $24,350 for a family of four. That's over a hundred thousand Baltimore residents who live in poverty, and of that number, it's estimated that thousands work full-time year round.

Despite calls for a quicker increase to the minimum wage, it seems unlikely that state lawmakers will come to a resolution on the matter.

But in Baltimore, where many try but few are able to break out of the cycle of poverty, we cannot wait for others to act on raising the minimum wage. Because raising the minimum wage is about much more than the number on a pay stub. It's about choosing between paying a medical bill or the rent. It's about working two or three jobs and struggling to find time to help your child with their homework. It's about putting in the hard work to get a job and realizing it still won't be enough for you to achieve stability.

No one who works full-time should live in poverty. And in Baltimore, as in cities across the country where so many struggle to get by, we cannot act soon enough.

It's not right, and we can do better.

As a former mayor of Baltimore City, I know that the decisions we make in city government have a ripple effect. If we ask our local business owners to pay their employees a living wage, then we must do the same.

That's why city mayors are beginning to take matters into their own hands. In Syracuse, Seattle, Jersey City and other cities, mayors have led the charge on raising the minimum wage to $15 for city employees, too many of whom live in poverty. In a political climate dominated by gridlock, cities can act swiftly to have a real impact on working families.

In Baltimore, we have 1,900 City employees who currently make less than $15 an hour. These are public servants who do the important work of running our city, yet across the nation, many of our public servants do not make enough to support their families.

That is why I have pledged to work swiftly to raise the minimum wage for city workers to $15 if I am elected mayor again. It helps our families, it strengthens our economy, and it starts a discussion about how we can raise wages and support our families citywide.

To the mayors and candidates in cities across our country, I invite you to do the same. Take the pledge to raise the wage for city workers.

Because it's time for cities to lead -- and to lift up the millions of hardworking people across our country who just need a chance.