I’ve been excited to follow the efforts happening in Portland and in other cities and states across the country to raise the minimum wage.

Ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage passed in four states this past election season. We all know that we are living in a crisis situation. Lots of people are working too many hours, for too little money, yet are still having to make a choice between paying a bill and eating each month.

One conversation that I haven’t heard enough of is how to bring tipped workers up to a livable wage. (Maine law lets employers pay tipped workers $3.75 an hour, half the full minimum state wage. The federal hourly minimum is $2.13 for tipped workers and $7.25 for nontipped workers.)

Women are two-thirds of workers in tipped occupations. Tipped workers are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to nontipped workers. But in states where servers receive the full minimum wage, poverty rates are much lower.

When the economy is slow or when weather keeps customers at home, tipped workers see their hours cut and tips shrink, causing many to turn to public support just to stay afloat. Food servers collect food stamps at twice the rate of the U.S. workforce as a whole, and are three times more likely to live below the poverty line.

I encourage Maine to continue having the much-needed and very serious conversations about living wages and to address tipped workers in all conversations about raising the minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage at the federal level would boost earnings for nearly 28 million workers, 55 percent of them women, and help close the wage gap between men and women.

James Willis

Cape Elizabeth

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