Maine Lags Behind Nation in Workers Earning a Living Wage

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Fewer than half of Maine families earn a living wage, according to a new report released today by the Maine People's Alliance. "Equity in the Balance" is the latest in a series of reports authored by the Alliance for a Just Society on the job gap - the divide between what Maine workers need to earn to afford basic necessities and what available jobs in Maine actually pay.

An Alliance report published in September calculated that a living wage (enough money to cover food, housing, health care, utilities, household expenses and to save for the future) for a single adult with no children working full-time in Maine is $15.82 an hour. Two adults, both working and with two children, would have to earn $19.49 an hour to make ends meet. The minimum wage in Maine is currently only $7.50 an hour.

The report finds that for four of five household types, less than half of all workers are earning a living wage. Only 54% of single, working adults in Maine with no children make a living wage. That percentage is lower for a family of two working adults with two children with 42% earning a living wage. According to the report, the national average for workers making a living wage is 61%.

Additionally, the report findings show that women and people of color consistently earn less than their white, male counterparts. 51% of single working women in Maine make a living wage, but that number drops to 45% for a person of color.

"Our report finds that a staggering percentage of full-time workers aren't making ends meet and can't support a family. The vast majority of women and people of color working full time do not earn enough to support a family," said Allyson Fredericksen, Policy Associate at the Alliance for a Just Society. "Women and people of color are concentrated in occupations with low earnings, such as retail clerks, cashiers, waiters and waitresses, maids, housecleaners, and child care workers. These are workers we know, they are people we see every day."

For Sonia Irambona, an immigrant from Burundi who lives and works in Portland, the struggle to make ends meet is very real. Irambona, who had worked for a tourism agency in Kenya, found that even working multiple low-wage jobs in Portland's hospitality industry wasn't enough to cover basic expenses.

"After paying for housing, I had less than $100 to live on each month, which just wasn't enough. I had no health care, and hardly enough money for anything else, let alone enough to save for emergencies," said Irambona. "People don't understand how hard it is to get by on low wages. It's not even a month-to-month struggle when you're not making a living wage - it's really a day-to-day struggle."

The report calls for a series of policy changes to help close the wage gap for Mainers, including policies like raising the minimum wage, instituting paid sick days for employees and investing in programs like child care assistance. The release comes just weeks after voters in four states, Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, voted to increase the minimum wage and as Maine lawmakers prepare for a new legislative session.

"We know that when women thrive, society thrives. Yet in 2014, too many women are struggling too make ends meet and too many children are living in poverty, with consequences for all of us," said Eliza Townsend, Executive Director of the Maine Women's Policy Center. "The good news is there is something we can do about it. We urge our elected leaders to make policy decisions that help women support themselves and their families."

"When I was talking to voters on their doorsteps, time and time again people would describe the difficulties they had working multiple jobs and still not making ends meet," said Heidi Brooks, state representative-elect for part of Lewiston. "I hope that my fellow legislators will come to Augusta ready to work together to tackle the pressing issues ahead of us. This report clearly shows that Maine can do better when it comes to providing living wage jobs and making sure we have policies that help people move up the economic ladder, not let them fall further down."

A full copy of the report and state findings can be found at: