Today, the House and Senate co-chairs of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee joined members of the Maine People’s Alliance to release “Broken Bootstraps: Falling Behind on Full-Time Work”, a report by the Alliance for a Just Society which examines the growing gap between the number of jobseekers in Maine and jobs available that pay a living wage.
"The average living wage for a single adult in Maine is $15.40 an hour. That's taking into account the average costs of housing, food, transportation, health care and other necessities averaged across all Maine counties," said Representative Erin Herbig (D-Belfast). "Of the job openings currently available in Maine, 53% pay less than this living wage and for every job opportunity that pays at this level, there are 11 Mainers looking for employment."
The study examines what an individual needs to earn at a full-time job in order to make ends meet in Maine and the job opportunities available for those currently seeking work. The report comes as the Legislature is beginning work on a two-year budget proposal from Governor LePage that includes tax shifts and program cuts that could add to the financial problems of already-burdened low and middle-income working families.
"Mainers are having to work harder for less. I just learned that according to the Federal Bureau of Labor, as cited in this report, during the recession Maine saw the largest increase of any state in the nation of residents taking on multiple jobs in order to make ends meet," said Senator John Patrick (D-Oxford). "We know that Maine workers are among the best in the nation. Our work ethic is well-known and highly respected but the problem is that there aren't enough good jobs to go around."
The legislators were joined by two members of the Maine People's Alliance whose stories of struggling to find a living-wage job were featured in the report.
“It used to be said that if you worked hard, you could pull yourself up and back from the brink” said Patty Kidder of Sanford, who supports her family as a massage therapist while her husband returns to school after being laid off from his job as a computer technician. “But these days, working a full time job isn’t enough to support your family. All it takes is one thing to go wrong, like a sudden and unexpected injury or unemployment, to push you back under.”
According to the report, a single parent with two children competes with 39 job seekers for one living wage job. Marie Pineo, a mother of two from Bangor, is currently experiencing that competition. “I am always looking for a job – but there are other people looking too. To find a permanent job that suits the requirements of my disabilities is impossible,” said Pineo. “Quite simply, a lack of living wage keeps me poor. Just to survive, I often have to use revolving credit cards to pay basic bills, food pantries to make food stretch, and cut out much needed medication.”
The Governor’s proposed tax shift in his two-year budget on to property owners, along with his refusal to accept federal funds to expand healthcare coverage to 69,500 Mainers, would only increase the burden on low wage working families struggling to make ends meet. With a higher tax bill, low-wage workers are less able to pay for basic needs and are more likely to be forced to make difficult choices between bills, food costs, and healthcare costs.
“I consider us survivors of the ’08 recession,” said Kidder. “It has been an incredible struggle since Roger lost his job, and we are trying hard to stay positive, keep going and live on the small amount of money we have. We need to make sure these programs stay in place, now more than ever, to give people a pathway back to prosperity when times are tough.”
A link to the full report can be found here.