Jeff Loxtercamp is an exceptional artist. You may have seen his art exhibits at our local galleries — he paints seaside villages, preserves memories of our historic downtowns and captures the faces of the people who live here.
Loxtercamp has a master’s degree in fine arts and would make a great teacher at one of our schools or colleges. He would be a catch for any company looking for an illustrator or graphic artist. Instead, the only job Jeff has been able to find is at a big-box retail store in the Bangor area for $7.75 an hour — a wage not even close to enough to support himself.
He lives in a mobile home he owns, has a roommate to share expenses and still struggles to scrape up the $343 monthly lot fee. Even a minor emergency means disaster — and more debt. He has no chance of putting away savings on his small salary, no way to save for retirement and no way to help his daughter with college costs.
It’s a fundamental value in our country that people who work should be able to make enough to support themselves. In Maine that’s impossible on $7.75 an hour. It’s a poverty wage, even for a single adult.
Jeff isn’t alone. More than half the jobs available in Maine pay less than a living wage. It’s getting harder and harder to find a job here that allows workers to make ends meet.
A living wage for a single person in Maine is $15.82 an hour, according to “ Low Wage Nation,” a new report by the Alliance for a Just Society released recently by the Maine People’s Alliance. The report paints a sobering picture of just how hard it is to find a living wage job in Maine.
There are 92,000 people in our state looking for a job that will allow them to make ends meet. That means in Maine there are 12 people in line for every position that pays a wage on which a single adult can live. If you are a single parent with a child, there are 21 people in line with you for a job that will let you support your family.
That leaves a lot of people who have no option but to work for low wages, just because there aren’t enough good-paying jobs to go around.
Like the rest of the country, Maine still hasn’t fully recovered from the effects of the recession. There is job growth, but the new jobs are in businesses and industries that pay low wages and offer mostly part-time work.
Jobs in sectors like health care pay higher wages on average, but Maine is missing the boat by not accepting federal funding to expand health care coverage to Mainers. Not only would that money provide coverage for tens of thousands of Mainers, it would also help create more good paying jobs and strengthen our hospitals and medical facilities.
Investment in health care won’t be enough to get Maine’s economy completely back on track. We need to raise the minimum wage to a real living wage that allows struggling workers to make ends meet. A living wage supports a no-frills lifestyle. It just covers the basics with a little to put aside for savings in case of emergency.
Poll after poll shows that Mainers support increasing the minimum wage. City councilors in Portland, Bangor, South Portland and Augusta have all proposed minimum wage increases. It’s time that our state legislators step up and increase Maine’s minimum wage to a rate that will allow families to survive and thrive.
Big box stores and chain restaurants are more interested in spending money on lobbyists fighting fair wages than giving their employees a raise. But keeping working families trapped in poverty is not a business plan.
Gov. Paul LePage continues with his anti-minimum wage rhetoric to turn his back on struggling families and Mainers like Jeff who work hard and simply can’t get ahead.
Mainers are not willing to wait any longer to advance solutions to fix Maine’s low-wage problem. Whether it be through statewide legislation, city ordinances, or even a statewide ballot process, Mainers want the fair wages that Maine families deserve and our economy needs to prosper.
Let’s get to work.
Amy Halsted is the associate director for the Maine People’s Alliance. LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society.