It was the summer of 1965 and I was working at my first job. I was 15 years old and excited about the opportunity to have enough money to purchase my school clothes. The job was at a fish factory located on the Portland waterfront. I worked the first shift, which was 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. It was hard work, but many young people were in the same position as I, so we all made the best of the work.
The job paid minimum wage. I don’t remember exactly what the minimum was in 1965, but knew that the amount was enough for me to buy my school clothes for the year. I returned to this job for a second summer, with less than full excitement. I knew that without the job, no new clothes would be available. You see, my parents have eight children and believed that at a certain age you needed to learn financial responsibility and earn your share. My father worked three jobs to provide for our family, we did not own an automobile, we never thought about vacations and yet we had a great childhood with many friends. We never missed what we didn’t have. It wasn’t until much later in life that I fully appreciated the sacrifice and hard work my parents went through to provide for our family.
I tell this story as a basis for my thoughts on why I don’t support an increase in the minimum wage. My primary reasons for not supporting an increase to the minimum wage include:
Increasing the minimum wage will not give businesses the incentive to move to Maine. Maine is already ranked as one of the worst states in the nation to do business as stated in a December 2013 Forbes magazine article. How could we logically believe that increasing the cost of doing business would attract small businesses to move to Maine? Increasing the minimum wage will not inspire existing Maine businesses to invest more dollars into Maine’s future. The economics are basic supply and demand; the more a good costs to produce, the more the business needs to charge for the good. This is fine as long as the consumer will purchase the goods. However, if a competitor can produce the good for less, the business will be forced to compete and reduce prices, causing the business to reduce cost, typically by reducing the workforce. In Maine, our small business owners are faced with some of the highest electricity costs in New England. Additionally Maine’s tax burden on small businesses ranked us 46th out of 50 states in 2012.
We all recognize that Maine is a great place to work and raise a family. Entrepreneurs with ideas and a desire to have a great quality of life want to be here. They want an educated and skilled workforce. Not a minimum wage entry level workforce. We need to realize that true employment success comes from truly free markets, effective education, effort and desire. Employment success does not come from government continuing to determine what is best for Americans and for American businesses.
Back to my story. I learned a valuable lesson during those two years; I didn’t want to work for minimum wage anymore. I needed to improve my skills and become better educated in order to be able to earn more money. I finally realized that education was going to be my ticket to making more money. Minimum wage was a beginning, not an end result. Personal responsibility and a desire to improve were my goals. As my father taught me, providing for my family is my responsibility, not the government’s or anyone else’s for that matter.
My story is not unique. I know many others like it. I am proud of my family and what I became. I am proud of being born and raised in Maine. I firmly believe that opportunity and success are possible for those who work for it. Success isn’t easy or without challenges, but for those that persevere the rewards are great. Raising minimum wage will not make you a better or more productive worker; that will come with skill, effort and a determination to succeed.
Bob Carter, a retired banker and educator, is the chairman of the Knox County Republican Committee. He lives in Warren.