Portland Minimum Wage Referendum Shot Down

Illaria Dana, Education Major

The Portland Minimum Wage Referendum that sought to increase the minimum wage from ten dollars per hour to fifteen dollars per hour was voted down on Tuesday, November Third. Advocates for the referendum stated that workers need to be making a living wage, one in which they could pay rent ormortgages, support their families, and afford food and  healthcare. Dissenters claimed that businesses, especially small, local businesses would have difficulties affording this increased cost of operating.

Portland advocates small businesses in zoning rules that limit the presence of corporations in the downtown and old port districts. This is reflected in the statewide trend of organic farmers. According to MOFGA, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Maine had 582 organic farms that generated $36,636,000 of total output that year. The business model of the organic farmer can be used to show the need for a certain amount of employees, the need to keep costs reasonable, and the needed economic output to keep Maine’s fragile economy viable for its citizens. Here, however, the comparison ends, for Portland’s economy is based on commercial businesses more than agricultural ones.

Maine has an unemployment rate of 4.7% according to the April statistics. The statewide minimum wage is set at 7.50 dollars per hour. About 14 percent of Mainers live below the poverty line.

Businesses obviously provide jobs for workers. It makes sense that prudent voters would consider the burden of increasing minimum wage on businesses as providers of jobs. However, one must also consider that hard work does not always equal success and financial security. People need to be able to have housing and food in order to flourish. Since Governor LePage has been active and vocal about cutting back on social services that could provide these necessities, and since the minimum wage does not reflect a livable wage, the burden falls upon the individual.

The argument that education is the solution is no longer viable. Many people cannot afford education. It is no longer possible for most to work their way through school. Community Colleges in Maine are struggling since they are no longer subsidized, and this could mean an increase in cost. Teenaged parents, who must provide for their children, many of whom have had their educations interrupted to care for their children cannot live on grants and loans. And we must ask ourselves, is it right to let people suffer?

The economy is fragile. It is like an ecosystem based on many interdependent factors. Capitalism places no restriction on how much money individuals and corporations can make. But should a advanced, industrialized nation have such a high rate of poverty? Should we let children and the elderly, those populations most affected by poverty, go hungry? What is the value of a human life? And how little will we pay people for their time?

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