Wage gauge


2006 wages in New England

Mass.: (median) $17.96; (average) $22.76

Conn.: $17.76; $22.10

RI : $15.59; $19.51

NH: $15.11; $18.87

Vt. : $14.19; $17.48

Maine: $13.76; $16.90

For L-A metropolitan area, 2007:

Average wage: $16.48 per hour

Median wage: $13.52

Average entry level: $8.98

Average experienced: $20.23

To find the going wage for your job, go to www.androscoggincounty.com/lewaubeci.pdf

Wage gauge

Surveys offer glimpse into local paychecks

Let’s say you’re a single working mom with two kids, living in Lewiston.

According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, you should be making $18.51 per hour to make ends meet.

Not even close to what’s on your pay stub?

Consider these careers: distribution manager ($24.70); purchasing agent ($19.87); loan counselor ($18.84); environmental scientist ($19.58); school counselor ($21.07); public relations specialist ($23.03); criminal investigator ($22.53); housekeeping supervisor ($23.39); postal service clerk ($21.32); brick mason ($20.45); computer repairer ($18.97); industrial machinery mechanic ($20.03); or boiler operator ($20.17).

Most timely data

These are just a sampling of the hundreds of jobs and average hourly wages pulled together by the Maine Department of Labor in a wage study for Androscoggin County. The study, conducted at the request of the Chamber of Commerce, was distributed to local businesses to assist in budget and salary decisions, chamber President Chip Morrison said.

“This is 2007 data; it’s as good as it gets,” he said. So good, the chamber has stopped doing its own member survey in favor of the Department of Labor report.

The numbers are derived from 2006 occupational employment and wage estimates and this year’s employer cost index. This is the second year the state labor department has culled out L-A’s numbers from the volumes of data it processes.

“Our members really like it; they use the information in many ways,” Morrison said.

For instance, Johns Manville applied the data in its budget forecasting, he said. A manufacturer of insulation and roofing materials, Johns Manville has little turnover. Managers needed to figure out the going wages in the local industry and submit a budget to corporate headquarters that reflects realistic compensation, Morrison said.

“They really appreciated it,” Morrison said.

The study was released last week, about the same time as the center’s livable wage survey. Together, the reports offer a snapshot of Maine paychecks.

The average wage for all occupations in the Lewiston-Auburn area is $16.48; the median is $13.52. The average starting wage here is $8.98; for experienced workers, $20.23.

As a state, Maine still lags behind others in New England. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, in May of 2006, wages here averaged $16.90. The next lowest rate was Vermont, which averaged $17.48, both a far cry from Massachusetts, which led the six-state region with $22.76.

But it’s not all about wages, said Mary LaFontaine, manager of the local CareerCenter. For employers looking for workers, a bigger factor is the availability of a labor force.

“If I have 300 jobs, are there people to fill them?” said LaFontaine. The area’s 4.3 percent unemployment rate coupled with significant numbers of people who are employed but looking, or underemployed, keeps the local labor force healthy. What might stymie some companies looking for new workers are the strict hiring requirements they hold.

“I’m not for one minute suggesting they lower their standards, but there needs to be a meeting in the middle,” she said. “Hiring requirements should allow a company to meet its standards, yet not be so strict that they tap out good candidates.”

She said the better wages offered by places such as the Wal-Mart Distribution Center have had a ripple effect. Some companies eyeing that same labor pool have nudged up their wages and loosened their hiring requirements to compete, she said.

Lisa Pohlmann, associate director of Maine policy center, said the think-tank publishes the livable wage survey to remind policymakers of the importance of using tax money to improve education, infrastructure and broadband technology to make Maine “a good place to attract more livable wage jobs.”

“We really do feel like we tend to be a low-income state,” Pohlmann said. “We’re trying to bring the mean up, but it’s a long haul.”

She pointed out that the household budget that th e Maine Center for Economic Policy uses to assess a livable wage is bare bones. It doesn’t include Internet or cell phone services, nor does it allocate any savings for retirement, college or emergencies. The complete livable wage study is available at www.mecep.org

“It’s a very conservative budget and still it is so much more than people are making,” she said.

Both Morrison and Pohlmann agree the benefit of such surveys is that people will check them out, assess their own circumstances and mull them over. For small employers, the wage survey is especially valuable, Morrison said.

“If they’re a big company, they might have their own studies, or at least a handle on this,” he said. “But if you’re an employer with 50 or fewer workers, this is the only data they have. It’s just wonderful information.”