Friday, March 7, 2014
Public discussion of teenage parenthood often leaves teenage fathers on the sidelines. Policymaking, research, media coverage and services generally focus on young mothers and the problems they face as they negotiate both adolescence and child-rearing. Young fathers, meanwhile, are stigmatized as self-centered, irresponsible and unconcerned with their children's needs.
Even if the Legislature did approve a minimum-wage hike, full-time workers who earned the hourly base wage would earn only 11 percent more than poverty level for a family of three.
But two young Maine dads, each the father of an infant daughter, have shown that perception doesn't always match reality. Chris Bilodeau, 18, of Waterville and Kevin Hardy, 19, of Winslow recently became the first two males ever to graduate from Teen Parent School. Offered by the Waterville's Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers, the program allows young parents to earn their high school diplomas while also taking parenting and prenatal classes.
Now that they have diplomas, Bilodeau and Hardy, like many young dads, are confronting a much longer-term challenge: how to provide for their children. There are significant hurdles for young fathers. Early parenthood takes a toll on education opportunities and earning potential. By the time teenage fathers reach their late 20s, odds are they will be earning less and working fewer hours than their peers who had children later.
A long-shot bill that awaits Appropriations Committee action in the Maine Legislature could make a difference for men like Bilodeau and Hardy. L.D. 611, if enacted, would raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 by 2016, indexing it for inflation This would both help low-wage workers better support their families and combat the effects of inflation on the real value of workers' wages.
The living arrangements of Bilodeau and Hardy should help dispel assumptions about young workers' motivations. Most critics of an increase in the minimum wage say that employed adolescents are living with their parents and are employed in order to pay for their own incidental expenses. But these young men are living with their daughters and their fiancees -- the mothers of their children -- and are helping support these families with low-wage service industry jobs.
Bilodeau earns $7.65 an hour, just above Maine's minimum wage, while Hardy earns $7.90. Both work part time; even if both were full-time employees, neither would gross $17,600, poverty-level wages for a family of three in Maine. In fact, even in the unlikely event that Maine approves a minimum-wage hike, full-time minimum wage workers would earn $18,720 a year, just 6 percent more than poverty level.
Maine isn't even proposing to raise the minimum wage high enough that it would have the same purchasing power that it had at its peak in 1969. (It would have to be $10.69 an hour.) And it's not as though anyone is mandating that Maine businesses pay a wage sufficient to support basic needs like food, heat, transportation and child care. (A livable wage is estimated at a combined $38.46 an hour for a family of four with two adults working.)
Chris Bilodeau and Kevin Hardy are proud, hardworking dads. Both are committed to their families and are exploring options for more financially and personally rewarding careers. They're stepping up for their fiancees and their children; it's unfortunate that Maine won't do the same for them.