Everybody knows that the population of older adults is set to explode as the baby boomers age. Everybody knows that overwhelmingly, the elderly want to remain in their homes even as they need help with daily living.

But what people may not know is that many older adults in Maine will not be able to achieve this unless something changes. What could change for the better is a favorable vote on Question 1. And contrary to the lies that critics are spreading, Question 1 would be good for the economy, as well as Maine families.

As experts who have spent decades researching the economics of caregiving and the effectiveness of social policy, it has been infuriating to see opponents of Question 1 try to dupe Mainers with unsound arguments and scare tactics. The argument for Question 1 is clear: Older Mainers currently do not have the freedom of choice to stay at home as long as they want to, for two reasons.

First, the average annual cost of full-time home care in Maine is close to $54,000, which is about the total earnings of the typical older household. Just half-time care is prohibitively expensive.

 Second, even if people have the money, they may not be able to find a caregiver, let alone a skilled one. The work is tough and demanding, yet it pays less than working in retail or food service. In Maine, and throughout the country, there will be a terrible shortage of home care aides unless compensation is improved.

Question 1 will address these challenges by creating a fund available to all Maine residents, regardless of their income, and by mandating improvements in the compensation of home care aides. This fund will be financed by a progressive tax, one that only hits earnings over $128,400 and that is shared equally by employees at that level and the companies that employ them.

Question 1 is a winning solution to a looming crisis, yet it is being fought using arguments that are simply wrong.

The first negative claim is that, if employers have to pay the 1.9 percent tax on high-earning workers, they will cut back on their jobs or else choose to locate in another state. This fails the smell test. Would a business really make its location decisions based on whether it costs $140,000 in compensation for a manager or, with the tax, $140,220 – just over $200 more? Hardly. Economic research supports this intuition. Extensive research on the impact of state minimum-wage increases, which push wages considerably higher in percentage terms and affect far more employees, shows that there is no negative employment impact.

What about high-earning individuals – would they decide to live elsewhere? A careful study of how variation across the country in state-level taxes affects the migration decisions of millionaires found what the authors termed an impact of higher taxes only at “the margins of statistical and socioeconomic significance.” In other words, no one will notice any shift.

In fact, Maine will benefit from this progressive tax because it will shift funds from the hands of the most wealthy into the pockets of the lowest paid, and these low-paid workers are far more likely to spend the money in the local economy than are richer folks, who save or invest or purchase out of state. Put differently, it is fair to call Question 1 a positive economic development proposal.

Research shows that, as the population of adults 65 and older grows by over 50 percent in the next decade, the supply of home care aides will increase by only 6 percent. People will be left without care or forced into nursing homes or forced to rely on stressed family members. Question 1 is an important step toward a much better future.


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