The costs of groceries, housing and other basic necessities keep going up, but wages haven’t. With passage of Question 4, Maine’s minimum wage will increase from $7.50 an hour to $9 in 2017 and then by one dollar each year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2012. After that it will keep pace with the cost of living.
This initiative is particularly important for women, who make up six in 10 of the 181,000 Mainers who will see a raise. For single moms struggling to provide for their families on a salary of $15,600 a year for full-time work (or about $300 a week), even a small raise is a lifeline.
It’s also important for Maine seniors. Question 4 will help one in four workers over the age of 55, many of whom can’t afford to save for retirement. If you work hard your whole life, you should be able to afford to retire and that’s not true right now for far too many older Mainers.
The referendum will also boost wages for vitally important workers, including EMTs, firefighters and home health aides, who often make less than $12 an hour. These jobs are particularly important for Maine’s aging population and those workers deserve to make a fair wage.
It really comes down to a question of basic fairness, and that’s why Question 4 will also increase the subminimum wage for service workers who receive tips from $3.75 to $5 in 2017, and then gradually raise it to the adjusted minimum wage. Even with tips, these workers make an average of just $9.06 an hour. They’re twice as likely to fall under the poverty line and nearly three times as likely to rely on food stamps to feed their families. Raising the subminimum wage for tipped workers like restaurant servers has been shown to increase their pay without harming the restaurant economy. That’s why advocates for restaurant workers are backing the initiative and more Maine restaurant owners are now publicly supporting Question 4 than opposing it.
This initiative will create stronger communities by putting money into the pockets of workers who will spend it locally. That’s why it’s been endorsed by more than 600 local businesses and by the Maine Small Business Coalition.
It’s time to begin to build an economy that works for everyone, like John Grenier, the owner of Rainbow Bikes in Lewiston, who pays his retail employees a fair salary and has to compete with big box stores paying poverty wages. And for thousands of workers like Katie Logue, a mother in Auburn who recently found herself homeless and living in a shelter despite working full time at a low-wage job.
It’s the right thing to do.
Mike Tipping represents Mainers for Fair Wages. He can be reached at email@example.com