When I first ran for office, I worked as a convenience store cashier for $8 an hour. It was the Great Recession, and despite a resume, experience and a college degree, jobs were scarce. As grateful as I have always been for that job, and for wonderful employers, it opened my eyes to the reality of systemic poverty that workers in low-wage jobs face. While my degree gave me prospects when the economy recovered, this was the life many of my co-workers would live until they could work no more.

When workers do better, the economy does better. To build an economy that works for everyone, we must take steps to address wages, retirement security and health care, and re-think how we use our tax dollars to best benefit the many.

I had taken sick days for granted until I didn’t have them. One day, I was called into work because one of our cashiers had pneumonia. Her doctor had told her that she would develop it if she did not take three days off, but she had mouths to feed. Had earned paid sick days been available to her, she would not have left work in an ambulance. A system of earned paid sick days would slow the spread of communicable diseases like the flu, while also ensuring that working Mainers can take care of themselves when they are sick. In places where workers have earned paid sick days, businesses are supporting the laws and report minimal or no changes in costs.

The first time I got my paycheck, I pulled out the calculator. I had worked 39.5 hours the week before, my feet and back were in agony, yet I took home just $250. Many of my co-workers were raising children on that wage.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour means that full-time low-wage workers, nearly two-thirds of whom are women, would earn $30,000 per year. With more income, people will need less support from the state and will spend more money in our local economy. Couple that with strict wage theft enforcement and schedules posted two weeks in advance, and workers would quickly be on better footing, thus strengthening our economy.

White Maine women earn 84 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts. Women of color earn even less. These lower wages translate into women paying less into Social Security, forcing them to retire in poverty. Maine must fight the gender wage gap. And we should create a public option retirement security system open to all residents of the state. Through voluntary, automatic payroll deductions, Maine workers could voluntarily set aside up to 3 percent of their income toward retirement. These small amounts would add up over time and give all Mainers greater economic security.

Income inequality is at its worst in decades. Multinational corporations’ CEOs now earn 271 times the median wage of their workers, and the top 0.1 percent of Americans now earn 198 times the income of the bottom 90 percent. Maine should use its corporate marginal tax rate to reward employers who have a smaller wage gap between CEOs and workers. Small businesses will pay a lower tax rate, while multinational corporations with large wage gaps will pay more.

We also need to rethink the role of our tax money. When we pay taxes, some of the money is invested in a few local community banks, but primarily it is invested on Wall Street. While businesses in Maine grow frustrated with the lack of small-scale capital, Wall Street banks would rather lend $50 million at a time rather than $50,000.

North Dakota has leveraged its assets and its treasury to put tax money to work locally through a state public bank. The bank returns investment dividends directly to the state, helps local community banks deploy more capital to small businesses, and has even helped communities with disaster relief. A Maine state public bank could deploy our tax dollars toward student debt relief, infrastructure projects and job-creating small businesses.

It’s time for Maine to dream bigger. As a candidate for governor, my vision for Maine puts economic power back into the hands of the people to lift wages, create jobs, invest our own money locally and support sustainable, measurable growth.

 

filed under: