Wages and jobs surge in Maine following minimum wage increase

Wages and jobs surge in Maine following minimum wage increase

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has just released data from January, the first month where Maine’s new minimum wage increase was in effect, and the results are incredibly promising. Average hourly earnings for private-sector Maine workers increased to $22.70 an hour and total employment increased to an all-time high, with a gain of more than 4,000 seasonally-adjusted jobs from December.

Significant employment gains were seen among Maine’s restaurants and hotels, with the accommodation and food service sector gaining 700 jobs.

Maine’s minimum wage increased from $7.50 to $9 an hour in January, with the subminimum base wage for workers who receive tips, like restaurant servers, increasing from $3.75 to $5 an hour. The minimum wage will continue to increase on an annual basis until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020. The tipped wage will reach $12 in 2024.

“Governor LePage, the restaurant lobby and other corporate interests made apocalyptic predictions about the minimum wage increase. These numbers make it pretty hard to claim that the sky is falling,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted, who led the successful effort to raise the minimum wage by ballot measure in November. “These are very early numbers, but so far they indicate that the result will be the same as for every other minimum wage increase: workers will make a little more and spend it locally, benefiting both their families and our local economy.”

More than 15 bills have been proposed in the Maine Legislature to roll back portions of the minimum wage increase. Several attempt to cut the tipped wage.

“As a restaurant and retail owner, my employees rely on what they earn to raise their families, pay for college, healthcare, and save for the future. I am proud to already be paying my staff the proposed minimum wage or higher, so they can afford to live well,” said Briana Volk, owner of the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club and Little Giant, both in Portland, in a statement in January. “The people have voted to raise the minimum wage for all Maine workers. There is no excuse to be paying anyone less than the full minimum wage in 2017.” Volk’s restaurants and retail operation currently employ 18 people, with plans to open a second restaurant in May.

Governor Paul LePage, who had predicted that unemployment would increase to 10% this year with passage of the minimum wage increase, made no reference to his previous claims in a Facebook post hailing the new low unemployment rate of 3.5%.

Photo: Maine restaurant servers and owners speak in favor of raising the minimum wage at a campaign press conference in 2016.

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