Maine minimum wage increase is a ‘women’s issue’

“On this anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Maine Women’s Lobby asks all Maine voters to join us in voting yes on Question 4,” announced Eliza Townsend at a rally in Bangor yesterday in support of the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage.

Townsend, the Lobby’s executive director, was joined by other policy, health and economic experts to explain that the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage should be considered just as much of a “women’s issue” as concerns around women’s health and reproductive freedom.

“We see firsthand the interplay between economic security and reproductive freedom. We know that women in Maine need access to higher wages so that they no longer have to struggle to support themselves and their families,” said Abbie Strout of Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor.

New data shows 93,000 working women in Maine will see their wages increase with the passage of Question 4 in November, which aims to gradually raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. The votes of Maine women are important for the passage of the initiative, according to minimum wage increase supporters speaking at an event at the Bangor Public Library today.

Sarah Nichols, Bangor’s only female city councilor, who spoke at the event in her capacity as a private citizen, says she’s seen first-hand the importance of the issue for local voters.

“A year ago today, I officially announced my candidacy for Bangor City Council. I decided to run because low income earners in Bangor were not getting a fair shake in our city. I won my race openly talking about the importance of raising the wage locally, because 24% of people living in Bangor are living in poverty, which is an unacceptable number,” said Nichols.

Nichols worked with other councilors last year to pass measures endorsing Question 4 and raising Bangor’s municipal minimum wage on the same schedule as the referendum.

According to Sarah Austin, a policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the initiative is particularly important for Maine mothers and their children.

“A $12 minimum wage in Maine would be transformative for working low income families with children. One in four Mainers receiving a raise under a $12 minimum wage supports a child which makes this initiative especially important for the well-being of Maine children, as nearly one in four girls under the age of five live in poverty. A large body of research shows that children raised in poverty are less likely to be born healthy, less likely to show up to school ready to learn, and grow up to earn less as an adult compared to their peers.”

If passed, Question 4 will raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour in 2017 and then by one dollar a year until it reaches $12 in 2020. It would also gradually increase the subminimum wage for service workers who receive tips from $3.75 to the adjusted minimum wage after 2024.

The increase in the tipped wage is particularly import for women, who make up 80% of tipped workers nationwide.

“The lower wage that tipped workers forces young women to rely on the kindness of strangers to advance their goals, and it exposes them to sexual harassment. It also creates a lot of instability,” explained Samantha Saucier, a low-wage health care worker and college student living in Orono. “When women and families are able to get by, it puts more money into our local economy and gives young people a shot, right here in Bangor.”

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