May 4, 2013

Maine Voices: Minimum-wage hike will help breadwinners keep up with rising costs

People working full time should not have to choose between paying for heat and paying for groceries.

By REP. SCOTT HAMANN

SOUTH PORTLAND - Mainers value fairness. When an employee puts in an honest day's work, they should be rewarded with an honest day's pay. It's simply the right thing to do.

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Raising Maine’s minimum wage will help full-time workers cover necessities like food, heating oil and the mortgage or rent.

2009 File Photo/Gordon Chibroski

The Legislature approved the bill I sponsored to increase the minimum wage to more accurately reflect the cost of living in Maine.

This is an important first step toward ensuring that all Mainers can afford to make ends meet. Families should not live in poverty -- or be unable to pay their bills -- after putting in a full-time workweek for their employer.

Making ends meet has become harder and harder as the cost of necessities has increased.

A Mainer working a full-time minimum-wage job earns only $15,600 a year. Raising the minimum wage ensures that every working Mainer can afford to buy groceries and pay rent. It means that a parent can afford healthier food for their children rather than relying on lower-cost, less nutritious choices to simply curb their hunger.

A dentist shared a story with me recently.

After examining the extensive tooth decay in a young boy's mouth, she asked him how much soda he drank. The boy explained that that's all he gets, because the milk is for his younger siblings.

These are the tough choices our minimum wage-earning neighbors face. An ongoing series of decisions to pay for food or pay a bill; put heating oil in the tank or buy your child shoes that fit.

Although there is still work to be done to address inequality in Maine, this bill is an important step in the right direction.

It raises the minimum wage 50 cents each year for the next three years, with future increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Indexing the minimum wage ensures that its buying power keeps up with the rising cost of daily necessities. Someone who is working full time should be able to put food on the table. If the cost of things like eggs, flour and heating oil goes up, the minimum wage needs to follow.

For businesses in Maine, raising the minimum wage means their customers will have more money in their pockets.

The tens of thousands of working families that will benefit from higher wages are likely to spend the money quickly on essential items, giving our economy a needed boost. Businesses will be able to hire more employees as our economy picks up steam, and Mainers will be able to work their way into the middle class.

Some doubt this fact, but what does history show us?

In 2007, lawmakers in Vermont indexed that state's minimum wage. Vermont's unemployment rate has now fallen to under 5 percent and has declined faster than Maine's during the past four years.

Raising the minimum wage has helped Vermont grow its economy and lower the unemployment rate. Maine is in an excellent position to take Vermont's lead.

Democrats were working to raise the wages of working Mainers, but legislative Republicans had other priorities.

They pushed for a huge tax cut on earnings from the sale of stocks and investments. Millionaires and billionaires in Maine already pay an overall tax rate lower than teachers, roofers and soldiers.

In times like these, we have to reflect on our values. It is worth asking: Which party cares more about working Mainers? In my mind, the answer seems obvious. Democrats are on your side.

Gov. Paul LePage may soon act on the minimum wage bill. I hope you will join me in calling on the governor to take the side of working Mainers by signing the bill into law and giving real relief to our dedicated minimum-wage workers.

This is a common-sense bill that will boost our economy. It should not be a partisan issue. Mainers value fairness, and rewarding work is simply the right thing to do.

Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives and is a member of the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee.

 

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