To increase minimum wage makes sense for Maine

By Jarryl Larson, Special to the BDN
March 02, 2015,

The Bangor Daily News in recent months has hosted Chris Busby’s article regarding the city of Portland’s recent proposal for raising the minimum wage, a letter to the editor on why raising the minimum wage should have been part of a survey list of ideas to create prosperity, and Heather Denkmire’s Dec. 31 article offering moral reasons for passing an increase to the minimum wage in Maine. Bangor has now chimed in with City Councilor Joe Baldacci’s proposal to raise the minimum wage within city limits.

The volume of comments in this debate is interesting, and they are full of the same misinformation. “The minimum wage was never meant to be a livable wage” is a common sentiment. “It was for teens” is another.

There are two solid sources for the fact that the minimum wage was designed to benefit full-time workers over the age of 20, and not part-time teenage workers. The first source is the official government Department of Labor website; the second is the law itself — 29 CFR Part 541.

For those who chose to ignore facts proving increases in minimum wage don’t result in a loss of jobs, check out Business Week’s 2001 article and the Fiscal Policy Institute, which showed the economy in states that raised their minimum wage beyond the federal level generated more jobs. One comment writer believed that this only happened in the states of Washington or California because their economies were already booming. Yet these states had the same drop in economic activity as Maine and other states. Twenty states raised their minimum wage in 2015 after others did in 2014. They already benefit from an economic boost no matter what unemployment rate or living expenses existed.

Since 1938, the federal minimum wage increased 22 times, during which GDP per capita steadily increased — a perfect record.

Some BDN commenters correctly noted taxpayers have been subsidizing low-wage corporations like Wal-Mart, Target and others, since low payment of staff results in higher profits for upper management, while the low-paid staff needs welfare to cover unmet expenses. Kim Krisberg estimates we could save billions in public assistance each year, if minimum wage returns to its intended livable wage.

The pope speaks against slave wages, which is a historical reminder that the 13th and 14th Amendments generated labor laws to undo unfair pay practices of sweatshops and slave labor. With the minimum wage froze since 2007, the country began to drag, keeping larger numbers in welfare — the working poor — as the wealth gap widened. The 2008 Wall Street crash — many call it theft by fraud — exacerbated the effects.

When we look at facts of history through 2014, we will see that raising minimum wages is a no-brainer. Why do so many politicians oppose it? Why is there disinformation that operates off fears that jobs will be lost, the economy will suffer — for which there is zero empirical evidence?

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is attempting to block local minimum wage increases such as those that have occurred for years in cities such as Seattle and Sea-Tac, Washington, New York and more. These cities have local home rule, and they increase the minimum wage locally because it’s more expensive to live in larger cities. ALEC is also busy blocking paid sick days, overtime pay, health coverage and other labor-related laws and regulations. Their funding comes from the Koch brothers and corporate board members who write and approve proposed U.S. laws before they are presented to elected officials.

Why would you want to keep a large percentage of the population underpaid and on welfare? There are many factual sources to read, but personally the best so far has been Matt Taibbi’s “The Divide: American Injustice in the Wealth Gap.” It is based on court case facts and interviews with many of the victims and perpetrators.

There is no economic reason to keep wages below a livable level. Denkmire chose morality as a motive — a fine motive — but for me the compelling argument is the economic benefits it generates for Mainers.

Jarryl Larson is a small-business consultant from Edgecomb and has served on several IT design teams.

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