By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,743)
“I have lived my whole life in Maine. I have been working at minimum wage jobs since I got my first job at Burger King when I was 19 years old. I can tell you first-hand how hard it is to make ends meet while working minimum wage jobs….my daughter’s birthday is coming up and I don’t know how I can afford to get her a present in time,” said Tabitha Whalen, a Customer Service Representative at Dunkin’ Donuts. Whalen was invited to participate in a national bus campaign advocating an increase in the federal minimum wage which has remained at $7.25 since 2009 – or $15,000 annually. The two-week, 11-state bus tour is organized by AmericansUnited For Change & Maine Peoples’ Alliance.
Anne Rand, a co-owner of Dale Rand Printing and Munjoy Hill resident said: “As a small business owner who supports an increase in the minimum wage, we have more children living in poverty than any other industrialized country in the world. There are 46 l/2 million people living in poverty according to the US Census Bureau. An increase in the minimum wage would give low wage earners a little breathing room. They could treat their kids to something special from the Easter Bunny next month,” she said. Rand served in the Maine State Legislature, representing Munjoy HIll, for eighteen years.
The US Senate is expected to consider a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour next week. According to a Portland staff member, Maine’s US Senator Susan Collins (R) position has not changed since February when she was “seeking bipartisan support for a less costly measure” – A measure that would not eliminate jobs and be fair to low-income people in Maine. Collins is up for re-election this November and will face a primary race on June 10th.
Mayor MIchael Brennan presided over an ad hoc panel, the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee, put together to discuss income inequality in Maine and what can be done to alleviate the problem last Thursday, March 20th. During his State of the City address in January, the Mayor committed himself to hosting this discussion in a diverse and non-partisan forum. In his introductory remarks to the thirteen attendees, the Mayor said that the economy is improving and asked what can Portland leaders do to make it easier for people to afford to live in Portland. “With a minimum wage of $7.50 in Portland, it is difficult to find a place to live in Portland,” he said. The Mayor said he supports an increase in Portland but is not committed to any amount yet. He noted that many cities in numerous states, have already raised their minimum wages above the federal level. City corporate counsel Danielle West-Chuhta said there is nothing in the Maine Statutes that prevents cities from setting up their own minimum wages. But minimum wage ordinances have been challenged on both coasts and overturned in New York City and Baltimore. Minimum wage ordinances have been more successful on the West Coast, she said. According to Tom MacMillan, president of the Maine Green Independent Party, Richmond, California just passed the highest minimum wage in the country.
USM Muskie School of Policy Professor and former state economist Charles Colgan told the attendees it’s important to have a minimum wage, but it’s also important not to let it “sit and erode. It has to be raised once you have one,” he said. Retailers are the biggest users of minimum wage and the area is looking at a long-term decline in retail. “Within the next 30 years, we’ll have 15% fewer jobs in retail,” he said. Colgan debunked the myth that raising the minimum wage will cause a decline in overall jobs. Chris Hall, Chief Executive Director of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce said there is “good evidence that raising the minimum wage does affect economic levels, but does it take them out of poverty?” Colgan answered that no one can come out of poverty on minimum wage. “You have to have two or more jobs to get above poverty unless you are a neurosurgeon.”
Mayor Brennan noted that in 2009, 55% of Portland high schoolers qualified for school lunches. In the last several years, that number has grown to between 60 – 65%. It is the Mayor’s intention to present a viable minimum wage ordinance to the Finance Committee in the fall before forwarding it on to the City Council later in the year.
A follow-up meeting of the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee is scheduled for Thursday, May 1st at city hall.