Do you remember your first job? I do like it was yesterday. Not mowing lawns or babysitting. I mean your first real job that came with a boss and a paycheck.

I was 14 and excited as could be about pumping gas as a lakeside marina in Oakland, right outside my hometown of Waterville. I learned the importance of being on time, well groomed and polite to customers. I earned 50 cents an hour – 20 bucks for 40 hours of work. The minimum wage was $1.40 an hour, but I didn’t care. I had my first real job! To this day, I remember how much fun it was to hop out of bed, bag my lunch and head off to work. I was “independent” and on top of the world.

The following summer, I used my marina experience to land my next job at a restaurant and grocery store. The owner taught me how to run the cash register, make change and address customer complaints. I doubled my pay to $1 an hour – forty bucks for a full week of work. The $1.50 per hour minimum wage was not a consideration. I had my second real job, climbing my way up the economic ladder.

During each succeeding summer, I mowed fairways at a golf course, ripped tickets at a movie theater, studied data in a textile mill laboratory and painted metal roofs. With each different job, I learned new skills and earned more money. The minimum wage was never a factor. I just needed a job.

My entire family is Franco-American, both sides. When growing up in Waterville, I listened to stories of hard work at the mills and in the fields. The framed photos on the walls helped to tell the stories. Honest people, close families, frugality, and hard work. Having a job was central to our lives, our independence, our pride.

Sadly and too often, Maine has replaced self-reliance with government dependence. It would be healthy for our kids and grandkids to get back some of that positive can-do attitude. Lessons and habits are best learned at a young age. That’s why the minimum wage issue is so important today.

In 2009, the federal minimum wage was set at $7.25 per hour. The same year, the Maine Legislature raised it to $7.50 for jobs within our state. Some Maine lawmakers now want to raise it to $9 an hour over the next three years, a 20 percent increase. Today, that would be the second highest state minimum wage after Washington’s $9.19 per hour.

Getting a toehold in today’s competitive job market is vitally important for our youth. Entry-level jobs, most often pay the minimum wage and teach skills needed to move up to the next position. Most workers paid the minimum wage are teenagers living with their parents or young workers less than 25 years in age working part-time. The unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds is nearly 24 percent! There’s a youth employment crisis in America.

Employers do not have unlimited funds to pay for the work needed to operate their businesses profitably. (Without a profit, the company shuts down and nobody has a job.) They hire workers who are able to perform the necessary tasks at an hourly rate their companies can afford. When government officials artificially mandate hourly wages beyond what is affordable, many small businesses are forced to lay-off workers, reduce their hours, or to not hire more employees. Raising Maine’s minimum wage to one of the highest in the country will discourage entrepreneurs from starting or expanding job-creating businesses here.

Over the years, studies have confirmed that raising the minimum wage does not reduce poverty. That’s primarily because the poor are aided by a broad taxpayer-funded safety net which includes food, housing, heating, health care, and cash assistance.

In Maine, there are reported to be thousands of skilled jobs left unfilled. Let’s help our youth acquire the on-the-job experience, training and skills needed to begin down the path of financial independence rather than government dependency and poverty. Let’s encourage our state legislators not to saw off the first rung on the economic ladder, making it even more difficult for young Mainers to get a start.

Bruce Poliquin is the former Maine State Treasurer and a 2012 Republican primary candidate for the United States Senate. He has 35 years of experience owning and managing businesses. Bruce is a proud third-generation Franco-American Mainer and Harvard University graduate. Visit BrucePoliquin.net for his most recent commentary and analysis on media outlets throughout the State about the important issues facing Maine families and their jobs.  Follow Bruce on Facebook  at www.facebook.com/BrucePoliquin and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Brucepoliquin.


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