In Maine, as in many places in the nation, it is becoming increasingly difficult for workers to find jobs that pay enough to make ends meet. Nearly one in five jobs in Maine don’t pay enough to lift a family of four above the poverty line, much less meet their basic needs.
In Maine, a full time minimum wage job pays only $15,600 a year. About 14,000 Maine workers are trying to support families on minimum wage jobs and working full time to bring home just $300 a week. These workers are regularly forced to make impossible decisions for their families; between heating their homes and paying for their prescriptions, or between getting food on the table for their kids and saving enough money to be able to repair the car they rely on to get to work each day.
No family should have to decide between food and medication. Not only should a life of hard work come with dignity and security, but when too many people are working jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the basics of everyday living, the broader economy stalls.
For every $1 increase in minimum wage, an additional $2,800 in the spending per household occurs the following year. In Maine, raising the minimum wage by just a dollar and indexing it to inflation would put $50 million in the pockets of Maine workers who are most likely to spend it in Maine’s economy. Unlike the dollars that sit in corporate bank accounts, the money earned by workers is spent in local businesses, making an increase in wages one of the best ways to stimulate the economy.
Raising the minimum wage in Maine, and across the country, is also one of the best ways to start closing the gap between the rich and poor in America. Right now, the wealthiest 400 Americans own more wealth than the entire bottom-half of the country, and the six heirs to the great Wal- Mart fortune own more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of Americans.
Despite overwhelming support for increasing the minimum wage, corporations and the super-wealthy are lobbying hard against increasing wages; the billionaire Koch brothers spent $28 million fighting wage increases last year alone.
Maine’s minimum wage hasn’t increased in four years. Over 135,000 Mainers and their families would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. A true economic recovery, however, demands that more workers are making what economists call a “living wage.” A living wage is a wage that allows families to meet their basic needs, without public assistance, and that provides them some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead. Living wages are calculated on the basis of family budgets (including just basic necessities like food, housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, child care, etc.) for different kinds of households. For many Mainers, a living wage is closer to $15/hour.
Last year, Democrats in the Maine Legislature passed a bill to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016 and to tie it to inflation, but Governor LePage vetoed the bill. While gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, who sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage when he was Maine Senate president, has pledged to push for an increase in Maine’s minimum wage, Eliot Cutler claims he only supports an increase in wages as “part of a broader plan” and he says he’d rather wait for the federal government to take action.
Maine workers and their families can’t wait. That’s why MPA will be working hard to support candidates who will fight for an increase in the minimum wage in 2015.