February 26, 2013

Competition fierce in Maine, even for low-wage jobs

A liberal advocacy organization's report stirs bipartisan calls for state policies to expand employment opportunities.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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"The idea of a livable wage is somewhat subjective," said Charles Colgan, professor of public policy and management at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service. "There are as many different takes on what equals a living wage as there are on what the poverty level is. There's no one answer."

Regardless of how it's measured, workers who took part in the presentation said they are struggling to make a living.

"It used to be said that if you worked hard, you could pull yourself up and back from the brink," said Patty Kidder of Sanford, who works as a massage therapist and tax preparer while her husband returns to school after being laid off from his job as a computer technician. "These days, working a full-time job isn't enough to support your family. All it takes is one thing to go wrong, like a sudden and unexpected injury or unemployment, to push you back under."

According to the report, a family with a single parent and two children needs a living wage of $22.56 to cover basic expenses. The challenge is that the single parent competes with 39 other people for a job opening at that level, it says.

Marie Pineo of Bangor, who has two teenage boys, currently works part-time due to a debilitating heart disease. She made $7,000 last year.

"I am always looking for a job, but there are other people looking, too," Pineo said. "To find a permanent job that suits the requirements of my disability is impossible. The lack of a living wage keeps me poor. Just to survive, I often have to use revolving credit cards to pay basic bills, food pantries to make food stretch, and cut out much-needed medication."

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@mainetoday.com

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