Raising Maine’s minimum wage -- the right time
Imagine that after an hour’s work, you are still not earning enough to buy a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, and the gallon of gas to get you to the grocery store and back.
Imagine that after an hour’s work, your paycheck is too small to buy the bottle of laundry detergent you need to wash your clothes. 14,000 of our neighbors are not earning enough to pay for the basic necessities of life. These working men and women do not have to imagine this hardship; it is the struggle they face every day.
Last week, my colleagues and I passed a bill to increase the minimum wage in Maine by 50 cents per hour -- about the cost of a postage stamp. This would be the first time minimum wage has been increased in four years, even as costs have risen and paychecks have dwindled in the economic decline.
The price of food, child care, medical bills, transportation, and housing are far more expensive than what the current full-time minimum wage paycheck of $7.50 an hour can buy. If the cost of milk, bread, and gas go up, why shouldn’t your paycheck?
I believe that everyone who works full-time should be able to put dinner on the table for their family at the end of the day, and pay their heating and electricity bills at the end of the month. But nearly 1 in 5 Maine workers have a job that doesn’t pay enough to lift a family of four out of poverty, much less meet these basic needs.
We were all taught, if you work hard, you will get rewarded, and if you put in a hard day’s work you should get a fair day’s pay. Tens of thousands of Mainers are doing the right thing. They get up, show up and work 40 plus hours a week, and they still can’t make ends meet. That is unacceptable to me. In this day and age, it is shameful that so many working men and women in Maine are living in poverty.
By letting the value of low wages decline over time, we are making life even harder for already struggling Maine families, and we are reducing the chances that they will ever be able to climb out of poverty.
Raising the minimum wage puts money back in the pockets of Maine workers who need it and will spend it in short order. If we want to bring our economy out of recession, we need to ensure that working people are compensated fairly for their labor. Those extra dollars will help put our economy back on track when working people can buy the basic goods and services they need.
One study found that for every dollar increase in the minimum wage, the household spent an additional $2,800 the next year.
Make no mistake; raising the minimum wage is still not a livable wage, but it is a step in the right direction. I believe in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Raising the minimum wage sends a message to Maine people that we value and respect hard work. It is the right thing to do, and it is the right time to do it.