Minimum wage vote a lifeline for parents of 63,000 Maine children

Minimum wage vote a lifeline for parents of 63,000 Maine children

“I was in an abusive relationship. I knew I had to leave to protect myself and my children, but I knew that if I left, with the skills and opportunities I had, I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet and support my kids. By leaving abuse, I was throwing them into poverty,” said Melissa Stevens, a single mother from Lewiston who spoke at a press conference at the Central Maine YWCA on Friday organized by Mainers for Fair Wages, the campaign backing the minimum wage referendum on the ballot this November.

“Too many Maine mothers wake up every day and weigh that choice – between physical or emotional abuse and economic desperation for themselves and their kids,” said Stevens, as her five-year-old daughter clambered into her arms, knocking a radio microphone off the podium in the process.

Endorsed by children’s advocacy groups

Stevens was joined by representatives of state and national children’s advocacy organizations who endorsed a Yes vote on Question 4. They cited the number of parents who would be affected by the increase and the fact that Maine’s rate of extreme child poverty has dramatically increased in recent years, as wages have stagnated.

“Maine’s current minimum wage, at $7.50 an hour, is not a family-sustaining wage. We simply must provide working families with the resources that help them support their and their children’s well-being,” said Shawn Yardley, a board member of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “Voting Yes on Question 4 is good for Maine children and families.”

If the initiative passes, Maine’s minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour in 2017 and then by a dollar each year until it reaches $12 in 2020. After that, it will increase each year with the cost of living.

“People who work full-time or cobble together several part time jobs should not have to worry about not being able to feed and take care of themselves or their children. This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that child poverty in Maine has risen at an alarming rate over the past decade,” said MaryLou Beaver, Maine Director of Every Child Matters. “Investing in families who need help with sustaining the basic necessities to grow healthy, productive children is an investment in Maine’s future.”

Research shows profound impact

According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute and the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the parents of 63,000 Maine children will see a raise with passage of the minimum wage increase referendum.

“A quarter of all those benefitting from an increase in the minimum wage are parents,” said James Myall, a policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “Research shows that children who grow up in low-income households perform worse in school and have lower earning potential as an adult. In fact, boosting the household income of a low-wage family with young children by $3,000 a year, which is the average predicted for the outcome of Question 4, can increase the lifetime earnings of those children by almost 17 percent.”

Advocates also voiced support for policies advancing earned paid leave and family care-giving in order to improve the economic conditions of Maine children and families.

“Though raising the minimum wage is only the first step, it is essential to addressing the economic inequality that disproportionately harms women and families in our community and state,” said Kathy During-Leighton, executive director of the Central Maine YWCA.

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