The minimum wage has been at the center of debates for years. Politicians have gone back and forth about what constitutes a livable wage, and the minimum amount people get paid varies by state. As of Jan. 1, the minimum wage in Maine increased from $12 to $12.15 an hour according to the Maine Department of Labor. People who are tipped workers, such as wait staff, are earning $6.08 an hour before their tips are factored in.
The minimum wage has been steadily increasing in Maine in recent years. Per the Maine Department of Labor website, as of July 1, 2018, “Portland’s minimum wage [was] $10.90 and connected to the CPI, per their local ordinance. The state minimum wage [was] $11 as of January 1, 2019, however Portland’s minimum wage ordinance may exceed the state minimum wage on July 1, 2019.”
In November of 2020 the people of Portland, Maine voted to increase the minimum wage. According to portlandmaine.gov, over the course of three years, the minimum wage in Portland will increase to $15 per hour. Additionally, in 2022, people who work during an emergency declared by the state or city will be paid time and a half for their efforts. This change was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. The current minimum wage in Portland sits at $12.15 per hour.
The University of Maine is complying with the wage increase that the state is undergoing. The student employment website states that everyone will be making at least $12.15 an hour, and those who are already making above $12.15 for an hourly wage will have their wage increased according to a pay scale that their office has generated.
However, as tuition and the cost of living continues to increase, students have advocated for a $15 minimum wage at UMaine. Last year, a student created the “Fight For 15” campaign at UMaine after working for the school for a few years. Michael Redante, who graduated from UMaine in the spring of 2020 with a master’s in forestry, created this movement. The group has not been active on their Facebook platform since April of 2020, but in the past they have provided students with links to financial resources and have held in-person meetings.
The fight for a $15 minimum wage has not only been heralded by students; over the past few months, the debate has reached the federal level. Since 1938, the federal government has been able to set a federal minimum wage. At its inception, the federal minimum wage was set to just 40 cents per hour. That figure was adjusted 22 times during 12 separate administrations, but has not recently been adjusted to match inflation. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 was established in 2009, but many have noted that minimum wage has stagnated and left many out of a reasonable income. If minimum wage reflected current inflation values, it would be in the $20 per hour range.
This has not gone unseen by political action groups, state and federal civil servants or presidents. President Joe Biden included a statement during his campaign for president that noted that it was “well past time that the minimum wage nationally be a minimum of $15.”
Recently, an effort was made to include a federal minimum wage hike in the most current COVID-19 relief bill. However, the $15 minimum wage addendum was voted down in Senate discussion to move the bill through the Senate, and the package was only approved after Vice President Kamala Harris stepped in to cast her deciding vote.
Sen. Susan Collins has been outspoken about the current COVID-19 relief package, sharing her support for a bill which would target those who have the most financial need, but has noted that she does not feel that the current package should include an amendment to the current federal minimum wage.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has stated that he will not back down from seeking to introduce legislation that will accommodate a raise to the minimum wage, and noted that he does not expect the minimum wage to be immediately changed. Rather, Sanders’ plan would raise minimum wage over a period of five years.
As Maine continues to increase minimum wage, people are still struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing unemployment rates to soar. This change in wages in the near future could be the spark people need to feel a little more financially stable.