Young Mainers shouldn’t be made second-class citizens

via Flickr user thisisbossiThe minimum wage increase proposal before the City Council in Bangor is rather anemic. Not only does it only increase the hourly wage a relatively small amount (three staged increases of 75 cents each), it also leaves out several important groups, including tipped workers and those under the age of 18.

This proposed creation of a new group of second-class employees among young people in Bangor was one of the issues Ben Chin and I discussed this week on the Beacon Podcast.

The idea of minimum wage workers often being teenagers is one that opponents of fair wages like to promote, but it simply isn’t true. According to the Economic Policy Institute, of the 130,000 Mainers making poverty wages who would directly benefit from a gradual increase to a minimum wage of $12 an hour (as the referendum being advanced by Mainers for Fair Wages proposes), only 18,000 are under the age of 20 – just 11.6% of the total.

There are more working mothers (19,000) and seniors (22,000) than there are teenagers making at or just above the minimum wage in Maine.

Setting those statistics aside, the idea of carving out a new sub-minimum wage for young people is disturbing. As I noted in the podcast, and at a hearing before the Bangor City Council last week, it’s an arbitrary and capricious distinction. These Mainers are doing the same jobs as their older peers, many are supporting their families or supporting themselves and they’re all trying to prepare for their lives, whether that means going to college, starting a business or starting a family.

A few dollars more in wages for a college student means that much less in immediate student debt and much less of a compounding debt burden in the years ahead. If we want young people to stay in Maine, or come back after going away for school, this is an issue that must be addressed.

As Ben noted, he and I have both seen the effects of Maine’s highest-in-the-nation student debt load on our friends and peers. It’s an issue that will follow this generation of Mainers for their entire lives, even into retirement.

“The wages you make when you’re young really affect everything, straight through to your prospects for retirement security later on,” said Ben. “This new debt, plus the inability to buy a home at a time when previous generations would, in many ways that all gets set up by the wages that you make and the debt that you take on when you’re young.”

This is an issue where policymakers need to take the long view and understand the long-lasting consequences of their decisions.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.