Time to raise the minimum wage

By Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos | Feb 15, 2014

I had to laugh when I read Knox County Republicans Chairman Robert Carter's editorial dismissing the idea of raising the minimum wage. After all, when Carter worked at SAD 40 in the 1980s as a building principal, he always received a generous annual raise from the taxpayers. Not only did he expect it, he demanded it. I was a witness to it. As SAD 40's business administrator for 16 years, I was in charge of the "books." I did the annual accounting for the school system that programmed annual raises into our accounting and payroll system. It also happens to be public information.

The minimum wage in Maine has been stuck at $7.50 an hour for six years running. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed my bill to raise the minimum wage for Maine's workers in the first session of the 126th Legislature, an act of obstruction that I'm sure Carter is proud of. While the cost of life's necessities, from food to fuel to rent (not to mention health care) have risen sharply, wages have stagnated. Maine workers earning $7.50 or $8 an hour struggle to pay their bills, often having to make the choice between staying warm or eating decently. Carter's disgraceful disregard for this unfortunate set of circumstances is indicative of the disconnect between his right wing Tea Party allies in Knox County and the rest of the nation. Apparently the Knox County Republicans are unaware that a recent Gallup poll of Republicans nationwide revealed that 58 percent of them support raising the minimum wage to at least $9 an hour. A full 76 percent of Americans support such an increase, according to the same Gallup poll.

In December 1979, I was hired as the first business administrator for SAD 40. In January 1980, due to the poor morale of the workforce, the school board asked me to conduct an investigation into the working conditions, wages and benefits of our school bus drivers, custodians, school lunch personnel, secretaries, clerks, and teacher aides. I completed this study in March 1980 and presented my findings to the school board at their monthly meeting. My report stunned the board. A full one-third of this workforce were making minimum wage or less. There had been no consideration given to employees who had worked for the district for more than a decade. Several school lunch employees and clerical staff were still making less than minimum wage after 10 years employment. The school board was embarrassed. They asked me to immediately develop a new wage/benefit package. I completed this work in time for our April board meeting. A new wage scale recognizing years of service was presented. Wages were raised substantially in this proposal and no employee at SAD 40 would ever earn the minimum wage again. With the leadership of board members Samuel Cohen and Elizabeth Wooster of Waldoboro, and Albert Overlock and David MacMillian of Warren, the plan I presented was accepted by the Board of Directors in an unanimous vote. The changes in pay went into effect with the beginning of the next school year. The lives of 200 people, valued employees, were changed forever. Morale among school staff soared. It was one of the proudest achievements of my life. Under the leadership of David Gaul, Ronald Dolloff, and myself, SAD 40 entered a golden era of stability that lasted nearly two decades.

Apparently the Knox County Republicans chairman is unaware that the former publisher of The American Conservative magazine has recently made a compelling case for raising the minimum wage. Besides publishing this well respected periodical, Ronald Unz was also the conservative Republican candidate for governor of California in 1994. A successful businessman, Unz makes the argument that taxpayers are the ones subsidizing low wage paying businesses, pointing out that their employees are forced to accept food stamps and other forms of welfare because their employers have failed to live up to their responsibilities of paying a livable and sustainable wage. He's calling for an immediate hike to $10 an hour. I agree with him. It's high time the taxpayers stopped subsidizing these low-wage paying businesses. An increase in the minimum wage is a win-win for the economy. Workers will have money to spend at our local businesses, income and sales tax revenues will rise, many of these workers lives will improve and they will be off the welfare rolls. Welfare reform starts with a good paying job.

Contrast this plan to improve people's lives with Mr. Carter's vision for Maine. He reasons that "Increasing the minimum wage will not give businesses the incentive to move to Maine." I guess his economic development plans for our state are dependent upon attracting businesses who want to pay our workers $7.50 to $8 bucks an hour. Carter describes himself as a banker and like his Republican candidate for the Knox County Senate seat, Paula Sutton, he likes to tout "personal responsibility" as his mantra. Of course we all know what the bankers did to our country in 2008, crashing our economy and raising the real unemployment rate to 23 percent, when all categories of unemployed are factored in. In fact, income inequality in the United States just hit 1929 levels. I think we all know what happened then. Working people had no money to spend, businesses had few customers, and the stock market and economy crashed, resulting in the Great Depression. It's likely to happen again if we follow Carter's plan. The greed of these bankers has no end and the outcome is likely to repeat itself soon. And what did the bankers do in 2008 when they all went insolvent because of their faulty business model? Well it had nothing to do with "personal responsibility", did it? They ran to the federal government and to the taxpayers and asked for a taxpayer financed bailout. According to Bloomberg News, the US govermemnt and Federal Reserve have backstopped our banks to the tune of $24 trillion dollars. And what did they do with this money? They didn't lend it into the economy to create jobs, they stole it, paid themselves healthy bonuses to boot. These banks continue to benefit from the Federal Reserve's financial repression. By pegging interest rates at zero percent, our senior citizens are now forced to provide continuous backdoor bailouts for our banks. The certificate of deposits that once earned our seniors 5-6 percent in interest now pay them less than 1 percent. This represents financial repression at its worst.

I'm sure Mr. Carter's life as a banker included annual raises and year end bonuses as well. But he doesn't believe the worker who makes $7.50 an hour deserves a raise at all, even after waiting six years. You've got to admit it, it's a pretty good deal for this predatory class, and when combined with their radical right wing ideology, it reminds one of the fascism of the 1930s. This should truly be a concern to every Mainer who believes in fairness. Despite Mr. Carter's hollow arguments, everyone who works hard for a living in Maine deserves to make a livable wage. As Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz recently argued, "There are alternatives. But we will not find them in the self-satisfied complacency of the elites, whose incomes and stock portfolios are once again soaring. Only some people, it seems, must adjust to a permanently lower standard of living. Unfortunately, those people happen to be most people."

Perhaps there's still hope for the Knox County Republicans chairman. I think he should take a job for a few months at $8 bucks an hour. After three months, he can write another editorial for the Village Soup and explain to us how he heated his home, paid his rent and bills, provided for his children, paid for gas, food, health care and insurance, and most importantly, dealt with the daily humiliating stress of not being able to make ends meet.

Jeffrey Evangelos is the State Representative for House District 49. He resides in Friendship.

Comments (9)
Posted by: Donna Hurley | Feb 18, 2014 07:08

http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/12/janet-yellen-and-i-were-taught-to-revere-capitalism-but-its-a-failing-system/



Posted by: JEFFREY PAYSON | Feb 17, 2014 20:20

Jeff Evangelos is correct to call out Bob Carter for his regressive views on the minimum wage. Bob's belief in the worn out theory of 'trickle down economics' didn't work in the 80's and it won't work now. Bob presents a pessimistic view that short sells the hard working people of Maine.  Bob states, "Increasing the minimum wage will not give businesses the incentive to move to Maine"; if cost of labor was the overriding consideration in locating a business, wouldn't Mississippi, Puerto Rico, or Haiti be deluged with opportunity?  As a small business owner and entrepreneur, I value the resource of Maine workers.  The current minimum wage is an insult to hard working Mainers and a hidden tax on the rest of us.  Minimum wage workers can’t make ends meet and many are forced to take government assistance; thereby, we are subsidizing companies that are allowed to pay below subsistence wages.  Fact check Bob; you incorrectly state, "our small business owners are faced with some of the highest electricity costs in New England."  This is untrue.  According to the EIA (US Energy Information Administration), Maine has the LOWEST electricity costs in New England, and second lowest  only to Pennsylvania in the northeast.  See http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a

 

Paying a living wage is the right thing for Maine and it's workers.



Posted by: James Bowers | Feb 17, 2014 17:51

Thank you Jeff for that erudite response to Mr. Carter's misguided defense of the subsidizing of wages by taxpayers. There's no way in this world that we should be supporting low wage payers such as Walmart by providing benefits to workers getting paid less than subsistence level wages. All of the arguments against Jeff's opinion seem old and tired to me, but who am I to know, I'm old and tired too? I've always paid my employees far more than minimum wage and haven't worked for minimum wage myself for 40 years, unless you count the legislature or being self-employed. Raising the minimum wage is the responsible and humane thing to do. Period.



Posted by: Walter Foster | Feb 17, 2014 13:23

Great letter, Jeff.  The most compelling and memorable letters are the ones in which the writer's experience helps us understand the wider world.  Mr. Carter's letter does that also.

I, like Mr. Carter and many others, had minimum wage jobs as a young person.  I was glad to have the money and the lessons learned.

It was perhaps a less greedy time or at least not one in which a "free-enterprise" business model for too many is to pay workers as little as legal and steer them toward taxpayer-funded public assistance to keep them going.  This angers me.

What scares me is that children growing up in poverty today or the risk of poverty are also at risk for compromised nutrition, health, ability to learn and ability to become productive citizens in their time.

The shortsightedness around these issues takes my breath away.

Carolyn Foster



Posted by: Victoria Bucklin | Feb 17, 2014 10:10

Why does Representative Evangelos have to belittle and attack Bob Carter in this recent article on raising the minimum wage? Is it because he knows that raising minimum wage will not solve the problems at hand?

Like Obama, Rep. Evangelos says we need to raise minimum wage in order to reduce income inequality.  I agree with Rep. Evangelos that income inequality is troublesome. It is true that since 2009 under the policies and leadership of President Obama, the gap between rich and poor in the United States has risen dramatically. As a country, we are in extreme debt, 17 trillion dollars and rising.

Evangelos gives a recent history on the minimum wage in Maine to make his point. He neglects that fact the minimum wage has been raised 22 times since its inception in 1938, and we still see significant income inequality.  Raising wages has always been a very short-term fix, because after minimum wages increase, the value of the dollar decreases.

The only proven way to get people out of poverty is to empower them with the necessary skills to become more productive workers. As Mr. Carter suggested in his article, more productive workers can command higher wages and move up the career ladder. However, there also must be jobs for these workers. Recent government rules and regulations have made it more and more difficult for businesses to succeed.

Engaging in warfare between old and young, employer and employee, haves and have-nots does not help anyone. We need to look for new solutions to making our businesses more profitable and our workers more productive.  Following the same policies we have done since the beginning of the Great Society certainly has not made things better, and to some of us, these policies have made things worse. Rather than laughing at and belittling whole groups of people, we need to work together to make a vibrant working economy where each person has an opportunity to succeed. We cannot guarantee equal outcome, but we can guarantee equal opportunity, and we can do it with civility.



Posted by: Sumner Kinney | Feb 17, 2014 09:36

Rep Evangelos - the soap box you should be standing on should be getting your constituents who earn minimum wage to get their hind ends into school to learn skills to get themselves out of that level of income.  I am sure you would agree that increasing the hourly rate by .50 is going to make much of a difference. 

"You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.  Your on your own and you know what you know and You are the one who'll decide where to go"  Dr Seuss

 



Posted by: Dale Landrith | Feb 17, 2014 08:23

When on the wrong side of an issue you then level a personal attack.  Mr. Evangelos should stick to issues.  Mr. Carter has long been an upstanding member of the community and a kind, gentle man.



Posted by: Donna Hurley | Feb 15, 2014 21:22

And Jeff, I to had to laugh when I read this opinion by one of the local Rockport Republicans!

It’s up to you

By Jan Dolcater | Feb 09, 2014



Posted by: Donna Hurley | Feb 15, 2014 13:12

Thank goodness someone is paying attention and telling it like it is!!



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