For more than 20 years, the Episcopal Church has promoted efforts to establish a living wage, supported workers in achieving self-sufficiency and worked to maintain a safety net critical to the welfare of vulnerable families.
As Mainers are asked to vote on Question 4, the referendum that will raise the minimum wage, I am glad to offer my support of this long-overdue measure. I am also pleased to share the endorsement of the Maine Council of Churches, which represents nine denominations and 550 congregations across the state.
Like many Mainers, I am concerned about the decades of growing wage inequality and how it compromises the dignity of every human being. More than 180,000 working people in Maine – 90 percent of them over the age of 20 and many over the age of 55 – will benefit from the first raise in the minimum wage since 2009.
The primary beneficiaries of an enhanced wage will be women, many of them single parents, as well as the parents of 63,000 Maine children. Our call as Christians is to love and support our most vulnerable neighbors, and the current economic landscape – where wages have stagnated since the early 1970s – requires us to speak out on their behalf.
For me, the minimum wage is an issue of faith. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that requires us to work for all of our fellow citizens.
At our annual convention in Portland last Saturday, the clergy and lay representatives from 60 Episcopal congregations across Maine unanimously approved a proposal to set a $12-per-hour minimum wage for our churches’ lay employees for 2017, with the intention to move to a $15-per-hour living wage by 2020. We took our quest for economic justice to the pews and are proud to support a minimum wage for church workers that exceeds the proposed increase in Question 4.
Last month, when I announced my support for this referendum, I met Heather McIntosh. While Heather puts food on the tables at the restaurant where she works full time, she and many women working for tips in this state often struggle to put food on their own tables for their families at home.
A wage based on tips is unreliable. You can never save, you can never anticipate what you’ll make and you can never spend a little extra this week knowing that you’ll make it up with the next paycheck.
Opponents of an increased minimum wage say it will harm small businesses and small restaurants, but that’s simply not proven to be true in communities that have taken the step to ensure a higher minimum. Everywhere and every time the minimum wage has been raised, workers have had more money in their pockets and local businesses do better. This is a matter of justice and hope.
Last month I also met Tabatha Whalen, a mother of two with another on the way. Working minimum-wage jobs has never allowed her to afford day care, and her son never made it to the top of the long Head Start waiting list before becoming too old to attend.
She explained that, just a few years ago, she was homeless and working two minimum-wage jobs while living in a shelter. She had to wear a McDonald’s uniform under her Dunkin’ Donuts uniform because there was no time to change between one shift ending and the next beginning.
I am proud to be among many Mainers supporting Question 4. As more small-business coalitions and individuals support the increase to the minimum wage, I hope all businesses will realize that this step will be beneficial to the whole economy in the long term. It is difficult to make a change such as this piecemeal. It makes much greater sense to do it together.
This measured, incremental approach to achieving a moral economy will help our fellow citizens across the state – an economy where all work is justly valued ultimately benefits all Mainers.