TOPSHAM — Thursday marks the five-year anniversary of the last time the federal government raised the minimum wage – from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour. The good news is that earlier this year, President Obama proposed to raise the federal minimum wage for contractors to $10.10 an hour.
The current federal rate translates to only $15,080 for a full-time, year-round worker. When adjusted for inflation, the current federal minimum wage is worth $2 less than it was in 1968. Mandating an increase in minimum wages will allow workers to provide for themselves without having to choose between buying groceries or paying the bills. Ultimately, these workers will be putting their hard-earned money (and more of it) back into the economy.
Raising the minimum wage is an issue gaining traction across the country. During 2014, 11 state legislatures approved increases in minimum-wage standards. But here in Maine, we’re still just a quarter above the federal minimum standard of $7.25, and Gov. LePage remains staunchly opposed to an increase.
Hardly anyone was surprised when he vetoed a bill last year to increase the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour. His letter vetoing the bill provides his logic for the drastic decision – or not.
Gov. LePage said that “too many people are worried about the bare minimum, wages or otherwise.” Instead, he urged Augusta to focus on creating “the environment for well-paying careers, to give hardworking families an opportunity to succeed.”
Let me get this straight. The governor believes that by pushing aside low-wage workers, the state will experience an increase in high-paying careers? I’ve spent hours trying to wrap my head around his argument, but there’s no logic to his words.
Those “well-paying careers” cannot exist without a healthy blend of varying wages in the economy. Sure, the governor’s goal of increasing the number of high-paying jobs in the state is admirable. But his proposed plan to accomplish the task just doesn’t add up. Simply ignoring people who live below the poverty line doesn’t equate to progress.
Gov. LePage also declared that politicians should focus on reducing our tax burden rather than increase the minimum wage. Wait. Does he really believe that keeping minimum wages stagnant will create lower taxes for Mainers?
Two recent studies found that Americans spend approximately $7 billion a year in public assistance to help the low-wage workforce. In the fast-food industry, more than 52 percent of families of fast-food workers are enrolled in some form of public assistance – compared to 25 percent of the total workforce.
If we continue to allow an environment where the bare minimum is acceptable, how does the governor believe struggling families will survive without public assistance – which is ultimately funded by taxpayers?
Predictably, LePage continues to say that when it comes to issues such as the minimum wage, “it is time to put Maine people before politics.” But Mainers continue to be last on the list of the governor’s priorities.
Don’t forget the purpose of the minimum-wage standard – to create a livable wage. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, creating the minimum wage, he said: “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” Gov. LePage, on the contrary, appears to believe that allowing businesses to pay non-livable wages is the solution for a healthy economy.
In Portland, Mayor Michael Brennan is taking Obama’s cue. Brennan created an advisory committee that has analyzed data revealing an increase would affect more than 125,000 Mainers. That data also concluded that the current ideal minimum wage rate is $9.70 an hour based upon cost-of-living increases. Brennan is even opening up the floor to workers to tell their stories to the advisory committee – a reflection that he’s genuinely interested in hearing how Maine workers are dealing with the current minimum standards.
As for Gov. LePage, there’s no hope he’ll make any future decisions to improve the lives of low-wage workers. I do hope, however, that Mainers vote with their conscience in the upcoming election and pick a candidate who clearly supports raising the minimum wage. Mike Michaud has a clear record of supporting a minimum-wage increase.
— Special to the Press Herald