Women voters key for minimum wage referendum

Women voters key for minimum wage referendum

Women voters key for minimum wage referendum

New data shows 93,000 working women in Maine will see their wages increase with the passage of Question 4 in November, which aims to gradually raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. The votes of Maine women are important for the passage of the initiative, according to minimum wage increase supporters speaking at an event at the Bangor Public Library today.

“When women thrive, our communities thrive,” said Maine Women’s Lobby executive director Eliza Townsend. “A meaningful increase in the minimum wage for all workers is an important part of building pathways to prosperity for all Mainers, especially women.”

Sarah Nichols, Bangor’s only female city councilor, who spoke at the event in her capacity as a private citizen, says she’s seen first-hand the importance of the issue for local voters.

"A year ago today, I officially announced my candidacy for Bangor City Council. I decided to run because low income earners in Bangor were not getting a fair shake in our city. I won my race openly talking about the importance of raising the wage locally, because 24% of people living in Bangor are living in poverty, which is an unacceptable number.”

Nichols worked with other councilors last year to pass measures endorsing Question 4 and raising Bangor’s municipal minimum wage on the same schedule as the referendum.

Question 4 backers believe the issue is likely to increase turnout among Maine women, with some of them getting involved in the political process for the first time. According to women’s policy experts, economic concerns are just as much “women’s issues” as are issues like reproductive health care.

“I am pleased to join the others here today – on the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, extending the right to vote to women – in support of Question 4,” said Nicole Clegg, Vice President of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “More than half of our patients live at or below the federal poverty line, and every day, we hear their struggles to make ends meet and support their families.”

“We see firsthand the interplay between economic security and reproductive freedom.  We know that women in Maine need access to higher wages so that they no longer have to struggle to support themselves and their families,” said Abbie Strout of Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor.

According to Sarah Austin, a policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the initiative is particularly important for Maine mothers and their children.

“A $12 minimum wage in Maine would be transformative for working low income families with children. One in four Mainers receiving a raise under a $12 minimum wage supports a child which makes this initiative especially important for the well-being of Maine children, as nearly one in four girls under the age of five live in poverty. A large body of research shows that children raised in poverty are less likely to be born healthy, less likely to show up to school ready to learn, and grow up to earn less as an adult compared to their peers.”

If passed, Question 4 will raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour in 2017 and then by one dollar a year until it reaches $12 in 2020. It would also gradually increase the subminimum wage for service workers who receive tips from $3.75 to the adjusted minimum wage after 2024.

The increase in the tipped wage is particularly import for women, who make up 80% of tipped workers.

“The lower wage that tipped workers forces young women to rely on the kindness of strangers to advance their goals, and it exposes them to sexual harassment. It also creates a lot of instability,” explained Samantha Saucier, a low-wage health care worker and college student living in Orono. “When women and when families are able to get by, it puts more money into our local economy and gives young people a shot, right here in Bangor.”

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