Workers are the engines of the economy. Their labor, skills and contributions make the economy run, and they have been the driving force digging us out of a global health and economic crisis. And meanwhile, millions of people working full-time still struggle to afford health care and housing costs. We need to build an economy that respects working people – with quality jobs and tools to weather unforeseen emergencies – so Mainers can work, take care of their families and contribute to their communities.

Thanks in part to federal support, the economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession has been strong. While this is a relief to many working people and families, Maine Center for Economic Policy’s State of Working Maine 2022 finds vulnerabilities in the economy remain that block tools and opportunities from working Mainers. Now more than ever, Maine policymakers need to show that we care about our workers and must ensure they’re able to take care of themselves and their families.

With more choices available and Mainers switching jobs at a high rate, today’s tight labor market means an increase in bargaining strength and a revival in worker power as shown by organizing and strikes to a level not seen in decades. As a result, some higher wages and improved working conditions have been won. But this power is still far superseded by that of wealthy corporations and big businesses. Let’s guarantee all Maine workers the right to unionize without interference and improve bargaining power.

When Mainers must take leave from work to take care of themselves or a loved one, a new paid time off law in Maine is making a difference – for workers with low wages in particular – and more workers are getting paid for this time. But because the new paid time off law does not cover extended absences, too many of our neighbors face financial hardship when taking time away from work for serious illnesses or care needs such as welcoming a child or tending to a relative at the end of their life. Let’s expand the law to cover more people and create a statewide paid family and medical leave program.

And here’s an idea – let’s pay workers a living wage. Today, many recent wage gains are outpaced by the rising cost of living, and MECEP finds price increases are greatest where corporations have the most power. A consistent consolidation of market power has resulted in a small quantity of corporations controlling most of the market for specific products. With excessive consolidation comes reduced competition and the opportunity for companies to charge excessive prices. Therefore, in 2021, corporate profits were the highest since the 1940s. And when wealthy corporations hoard profits instead of supporting workers with better wages and benefits, workforce shortages and supply disruptions get worse. Let’s rein in the power of corporate giants whose profiteering is hurting Maine workers, families and small businesses.

While we’re at it, let’s choose to prioritize the needs of families and not even consider tax breaks for wealthy corporations without first expanding the Child Tax Credit and supporting the 49,000 Maine children who lost out after a recent expansion of the credit was allowed to lapse. And let’s make a choice to strengthen existing safety net programs – including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — and make long-term investments in supports including health care, paid family and medical leave, child care and housing – to help protect Mainers who are most vulnerable from the impacts of future price increases.

This pandemic has shown just how essential workers are to our economy. Let’s make it so that their hard work results in livable wages and good benefits. When working Mainers have the opportunities and tools to build a good life and can afford supports like child care so they can work, take care of their family, and keep developing our economy, it’s good for all of us.

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