By Ramona du Houx
The House on Monday gave its initial approval to a bill that would gradually increase the minimum wage to $9.50 in 2018. The vote was 81-66.
LD 92 would increase the minimum wage to $8 an hour in Oct. 1. It would then increase by 50 cents a year until it reaches $9.50 on Oct. 1, 2018. The current minimum wage is $7.50.
Working full-time for the minimum wage in Maine brings in $15,600 a year. Full time wages should never put someone into poverty.
"No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country... By living wages, I mean more than the bare subsistence level. I mean the wages of a decent living," said President Franklin D. Rosssevelt.
“The need to raise the minimum wage is very real and couldn’t be more evident. Maine’s minimum-wage workers haven’t had a raise since 2009,” said Rep. Dillon Bates, D-Westbrook, the bill’s sponsor.
"This modest increase is both a pro-worker and a pro-business initiative, bringing the minimum wage closer to a living wage and leveling the playing field for Maine businesses competing with big boxes. We will save taxpayer dollars by lightening the burden on social services, empower small Maine businesses and take action on an issue for which action is long overdue.”
Small businesses say a higher wage would benefit business by increasing consumer purchasing power, helping the economy and lowering employee turnover while increasing productivity and customer satisfaction, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Eight-one percent of small businesses with hourly workers pay their employees more than the minimum wage, according to a study by The Hartford. The most cited reasons for a higher minimum wage were the cost of living being too high for the current minimum wage and the need to be competitive and attract talent.
Adjusted for inflation, Maine’s current minimum wage is lower than it was 40 years ago. Minimum-wage workers are older than they used to be, with an average age of 35, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Teenagers account for only 12.4 of low-wage earners while more than 41 percent are at least 35 years old.
The bill faces further action in the Senate and House.