I am calling attention to the minimum wage because it is about basic economic fairness. Over a tenure of four terms on the Bangor City Council, including a term as mayor, I have strongly and actively supported tens of millions of dollars — if not over $100 million — in new commercial development and jobs throughout this great city that have benefited Bangor and our whole region.
I have been proud to support those efforts through tax policy as well as direct support, as they will continue to pay dividends to our city for decades to come. I will continue to support such efforts. But as we raise our city’s sights for the future, we also need to raise our residents’ wages. I much prefer a state- or federal-level increase to the minimum wage, and hopefully those will come. However, after no increase in the minimum wage for six years, it’s time to jump-start this discussion.
Having a real and substantial conversation about raising the minimum wage is part of a necessary discussion we need to have about raising people’s incomes in general.
First, some facts. The minimum wage in Maine is $7.50 per hour, and it has not been raised since 2009. In 1966, Maine’s minimum wage was $1.25 per hour. Adjusted for inflation over nearly five decades, that same 1966 wage would equal about $9.15 — $1.65 per hour more than what it is today. According to a report last year by the Maine Women’s Policy Center, 85 percent of Maine workers who would be impacted by raising the minimum wage are over 20 years of age.
In Maine, 6 in 10 minimum-wage workers are women, and 62 percent of the women over the age of 25 earning minimum wage do not have a spouse’s income to supplement their own. And, according to a report by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, 23 percent of the workers — or 60,000 people in the 2nd Congressional District, the most in any congressional district in New England — would benefit by a raise to $10.10 an hour as proposed by President Barack Obama. Statewide, the jump to that higher figure would benefit 110,000 Maine workers. And as we all know, family incomes of just about everybody have been stagnant for too long.
A conversation about raising the minimum wage is a conversation about raising incomes in general. It’s a conversation about rewarding work over welfare. It’s a conversation about a rising tide that lifts all boats.
I have developed and submitted to the city manager an initial first draft of my proposal to establish a citywide minimum wage ordinance. Bangor’s population is less than 3 percent of the state’s but more than 6 percent of the state’s workforce works in Bangor, or about 35,000 workers. And, Bangor is a retail powerhouse for the state’s coffers, generating more in sales tax revenue to Maine government than any other city in the state, including Portland and South Portland.
My proposal is more modest but, hopefully, more tailored to Bangor. My proposal would raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2016, then to $9.00 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2017, $9.75 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018 and, thereafter, it would be indexed to inflation. My proposed ordinance does not affect tipped employees or businesses with fewer than eight employees — regardless of whether they are full time or part time. If there were a state or federal measure to raise the minimum wage, I would support including all businesses in that legislation. In a local ordinance, I felt the focus needed to be on the larger entities that typically are run by national chains and not local small business.
I have submitted this first draft and will circulate it to my fellow councilors. I’ve asked the city manager not to schedule it for a committee meeting until the first week of April because I first want to engage people in a full, fair and thoughtful discussion.
I will be co-sponsor a public forum in Bangor in late March or early April to bring the community out to talk about the minimum wage and about the pluses and minuses of my first draft. I am sure there will be good and fair people on both sides who will want to come out and say their piece, and they are will be welcome to do so.
Joe Baldacci is a Bangor city councilor.