Advocates call for statewide minimum wage increase
Members of the Maine People's Alliance hosted a press conference today in Bangor to release the latest figures 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. They were joined by City Councilor Sarah Nichols who advocated for Maine to follow the lead of Bangor and pass a minimum wage increase statewide in 2016 in order to begin to address the gap.
“Patchwork of Paychecks,” a report published by the national Alliance for a Just Society, calculates a living wage in each state as well as the number of job seekers per available living wage job. According to the report’s findings, more than half of Maine jobs don't pay a living wage.
“After knocking on over 1,100 doors during my run for city council, I learned first-hand that many residents in this city are making the choice between food, shelter, and health care. They are working hard just to get ahead but can’t because of the stagnated wages in the state of Maine,” said City Councilor Sarah Nichols, who campaigned on raising the minimum wage in Bangor. “I am pleased that we as a council were able to come to a compromise and start to take a step in the right direction to increase the purchasing power of workers in the city of Bangor. Now, the best way for us to help all the people of Maine get ahead is to raise the minimum wage and that’s why I support the statewide minimum wage referendum.”
The report calculated that a living wage for a single adult with no children working full-time in Maine is $15.77 an hour. For a single adult with two children a living wage is $29.08. The minimum wage in Maine is currently $7.50 an hour. The report further finds that for a single adult in Maine, more than half of the available jobs in Maine pay below a living wage. Additionally, there are nine people competing for every job opening that pays $15 an hour. For a single mother with two children, that number balloons to 28 job seekers for every living wage job opening.
The report offers a series of policy recommendations including raising the minimum wage, promoting stronger workplace protections for part-time workers, and investing in strong social programs that provide a roadmap out of poverty.
For Kimberly Hammill, who lives in Levant and works as a social worker, important assistance programs like WIC made the difference in breaking a cycle of poverty and moving out of low-wage work.
“I like to consider that I am an example of the American dream. I have a teenage daughter. I volunteer in my community. I’m a homeowner and a taxpayer. But it wasn’t easy getting to this point,” said Hammill. “Public assistance programs like these helped me save what little money I earned in my low-wage jobs to be able to finish school. I was the first in my family to graduate from college and soon my daughter will also be going to school. Without these programs I don’t know if I ever would have escaped the cycle of poverty. I certainly don’t believe a low-wage job alone would have been able to make the difference.”
Tyler Williams, who lives in Bangor and works at a big-box retailer, found he couldn’t support his family on low wages.
“From the time I was 15, I’ve had to work a number of the minimum wage jobs to provide the only source of income for my family other than disability assistance my mother received. As the sole breadwinner, I was responsible, as a child, for making sure the heat stayed on through the winter, and unfortunately, I often failed in that endeavor,” said Williams. “This report only adds further proof that Maine families are struggling to make ends meet on jobs that pay poverty wages. Maine needs jobs that pay a living wage and we can’t wait any longer.”
In June, Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO launched a citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024. In November the campaign announced it had collected 90,000 signatures - well over the 61,123 needed and all but guaranteeing placement on the 2016 ballot.
For Jasmin Tracy, who’s worked in the restaurant industry as a server for over 20 years, any minimum wage increase that doesn’t include workers making the tipped minimum wage fails the goal of creating more living wage jobs.
“I’m paid only $3.75 an hour instead of the normal $7.50. The rest of my paycheck is expected to be made up by tips that I receive from the people I serve,” said Tracy. “You can’t call these living wage jobs if your living is determined by the tips from your customers or whether you have a busy night or a slow night. Relying on customers instead of my employer to pay my wage is not right. I support the statewide minimum wage increase because it will phase out the tipped minimum wage over time and ensure that all workers are paid one fair wage. That to me is fair and right.”
“Poll after poll shows that Mainers support increasing the minimum wage, and at a time when so many Mainers are clearly struggling in part-time, low-wage jobs, we know that we can’t afford to wait. It’s past time for statewide action,” said Sam Portera, greater Bangor organizer for the Maine People’s Alliance. “Cities like Portland and Bangor have led the way, now it’s time for voters across the state to finish the job and ensure that all Mainers are paid a fair wage.”
The full findings of the report can be found at www.thejobgap.org.