Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA – Maine workers are more productive than ever but are earning less and receiving fewer benefits, according to a report released this week.

“State policymakers must seek solutions to preserve economic security and promote economic opportunity for Maine workers now,” said Garrett Martin, associate director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy and author of “The State of Working Maine: Choices for the Recession and Beyond.”

The report said Maine’s median household-income growth has outpaced those of the U.S. and New England since 2000, but wages for low- and middle-income households have remained stagnant or declined.

Other long-term trends that have significant ramifications for Maine workers are the transition from a natural resources- and manufacturing-based economy, unionization, and historic discrepancies in earnings based on a range of demographics such as gender, the aging of Maine’s work force and education, Martin said.

He said policymakers must focus on stabilizing employment and putting more money in the pockets of working Mainers by providing property tax relief; ensuring that minimum wage keeps pace with wage growth; promoting job and income security for workers through paid sick leave; investing in education, health care, energy-efficiency and critical infrastructure; and awarding business tax credits only to companies that provide quality jobs.

Maine Heritage Policy Center CEO Tarren Bragdon said no state requires paid sick leave for all workers, and the extra cost to businesses would eliminate jobs for low-income people, not create or save them.

“What we need to do in the middle of this recession is not find new ways to tax and add cost to businesses, but make it easier for them to hire individuals,” Bragdon said. He said the Legislature has been implementing Maine Center for Economic Policy strategies for decades without any success in creating more jobs.

“What we need to do is look at states who have created new jobs and how they’re doing it and replicate those strategies, not increase the cost of doing business yet again here in Maine,” he said.

The center’s fiscal policy analyst, Dan Coyne, said L.D. 1816, the $99 million bond package being considered by the Legislature, would generate more than 2,400 jobs. Its emphasis is on transportation and other critical infrastructure projects, he said.

“A successful bond package would create jobs now and encourage new public and private investments that can serve as the foundation of future prosperity,” Coyne said. “Now is the time for an appropriate amount of state government investment to help fuel Maine’s economy and create and preserve thousands of much needed jobs.”

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