LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Democratic activist groups spoke out Tuesday, saying the state needs to increase the minimum wage. The Department of Labor says the current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour and about 20,000 Mainers are paid at that level, for both full-time and part-time jobs.
The Maine People's Alliance, Maine Women's Lobby and Maine Center for Economic Policy say a new national study by the Alliance for a Just Society shows Maine's low wage workers are falling farther behind, and that a significant minimum wage increase is needed.
The groups say the study actually shows the need far higher than any of the minimum wage increases under discussion. President Obama has proposed a federal minimum of $10.10, and many groups are promoting that same figure. But according to Gen Lysen of the Maine Peoples Alliance, the study shows, "A single adult on their own would have to earn $15.82 an hour to pay for food housing transportation and household expenses. A single parent with a school age child would have to earn $22.57."
Shoe company owner Jim Wellehan - who says his workers are paid almost double the current Maine minimum wage - told reporters raising the wage will help the economy by putting more money in people's pockets.
The activist groups are hoping minimum wage becomes an issue in the current political campaigns. Democrat Mike Michaud supports the President's increase plan. Independent Eliot Cutler says he also supports raising the wage, but says it needs to be one part of a larger "jobs plan, that includes raising the ceiling" on wages for everyone.
Republican Paul LePage vetoed a minimum wage hike in 2013, saying at the time Maine needed to focus on creating more and better paying jobs, instead of focusing on the minimum.
The CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce basically agrees with LePage. Chris Hall told NEWS CENTER businesses need to see all Maine wages go up.
"What we're really looking for," said Hall, "is twenty and thirty dollar an hour jobs and more of 'em, and that conversation is more important to a lot of folks around the state than just the bottom of the wage scale."