Nov. 30 is Small Business Saturday, a time to support the thousands of small businesses deeply grounded in our communities and in Maine values.
One of those core Maine values is that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. As the owners of the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, we pay above the minimum wage because we believe that when you work for a living, you should be able to make a living. But it’s not just the right thing to do — it’s also good business. Our workers are the backbone of our business and when they feel valued they put their all into their work. They can be fully present with our customers when they’re not worried about how they’re going to pay for rent or groceries or childcare.
As small business owners, we know that the key to success for our business is our community. When they thrive, we thrive. When they struggle, we struggle. When working Mainers have money in their pockets, it’s money that they can spend on groceries, gas, medicine, car repairs and even the occasional cocktail.
That’s why we were proud to see that in July Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden voted for the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024. It would give over a quarter of all workers a raise, putting $118 billion into working peoples’ pockets. It’s a commonsense policy that has broad support with two-thirds of Americans supporting raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Here in Maine we know that a rising tide lifts all boats. When Maine voters raised the minimum wage in 2016, big business lobbyists said that the sky would fall. However, as this paper’s editorial board noted earlier this year, the opposite has been true. Not only is unemployment in Maine at a record low, but we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire country. We have a lower unemployment rate than many states with lower minimum wage. That increase has also helped to raise Mainer’s income, with our personal income growing faster than the national average. The raises helped 10,000 children to be lifted out of poverty after just the first year of the incremental minimum wage increases.
After the largest increase in the tipped wage in Maine history in 2017, we saw more restaurants open, more restaurant jobs created, higher wages for servers and even higher levels of tipping from customers.
While raising the wage here has helped, it’s not enough. We still live in a state where one out of every five children doesn’t have enough to eat. That’s just not right, and things are far worse across the country, where in many states the minimum wage remains $7.25 an hour.
That’s why it’s disappointing that Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have so far been silent on the Raise the Wage Act. While advocating for the Minimum Wage Fairness Act in 2014, King wrote “When I was governor, I vetoed increases in the state minimum wage, calling each time on Congress to meet its obligation to set a uniform, livable federal standard. That continues to be my position.”
This is King’s chance to do just that.
In 2014, Collins voted against raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, saying that it was too high. She has since voted for $1.9 trillion in tax cuts for the ultra wealthy and big corporations that made it even harder for small businesses like ours to compete.
Somehow we always seem to have enough money for the rich and powerful, but when it comes to a living wage for working families, it’s always too expensive. The Raise the Wage Act is about allowing workers to earn a living wage, but it’s also about more than that. We can choose either the politics of scarcity and fear or a world where both workers and small business owners thrive together. On Small Business Saturday, we urge our senators to embrace the latter.
Andrew Volk and Briana Volk are owners of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in Portland.