Maine deserves a serious, not slanderous, minimum wage debate

Maine should give working families a raise and support a minimum wage increase on Election Day.

And between now and then, Mainers deserve a serious policy debate that doesn’t resort to outlandish claims and insults.

Question 4 on the ballot would increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour, the current rate, to $9 an hour in 2017 and then by a dollar a year until 2020 when the minimum wage would adjust based on the Consumer Price Index.

It’s good policy that will help an estimated 181,000 workers and their families, including 63,000 children in the state whose parents would see their income gradually rise.

According to Question 4 supporters, about a third of working parents in the state will see a wage increase along with about 25 percent of workers older than 55. We’re not talking about teenagers here. Ninety percent of the people who will benefit from an increased minimum wage are 20 or older.

Micky Bedell | BDN

Micky Bedell | BDN

The evidence supports the increase, and there’s good information from around the country on the impact of raising the minimum wage on small businesses, job creation and the economy.

As the Maine Center for Economic Policy explains, a person working full-time at the current $7.50 an hour earns just $15,600 a year. That’s less than the federal poverty level for a family of two. And Maine’s minimum wage today has less purchasing power than the minimum wage did in 1968.

It’s time to raise the wage and make sure that hardworking people can earn enough to support themselves and their families.

It’s not unusual during referendum campaigns for the competing sides to offer countervailing points of view and different interpretations of the evidence.

But a claim made last week by an opponent of increasing the minimum wage goes way too far.

“Where would that money be spent?” asked Rick Snow, a Yarmouth business owner and Republican House candidate, during a during a Maine Heritage Policy Center press conference. “We’ve heard about the opiate issues in the state of Maine. Are we going to add more income to individuals so they can spend it on illegal activities?”

How can three sentences be so wrong on so many fronts?

Poor, working families aren’t criminals. They aren’t the enemy. And giving them access to a living wage will only increase the stability in their lives and improve outcomes in areas such as education for their children, health and well-being.

Opiate addiction and drug abuse stretch across socioeconomics, class and geography. It’s a problem that has struck Maine’s rural communities, cities and suburbs. It affects white people, mostly, but also people of color. And it is an indiscriminate killer, unconcerned about the size of the bank account.

Equating poverty or working at a low-wage job with drug abuse or other illegal activities is a slander. It has no place in a debate about the minimum wage.

According to the CDC, the people most at-risk of abusing heroin were traditionally white men between 18 and 25, people with income less than $20,000 and those without insurance. But goodness have times changed.

“Significant increases in heroin use were found in groups with historically low rates of heroin use, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes,” the CDC wrote.

The New York Times just this week told the tragic story of a 27-year-old, middle-class, suburban, college graduate who died from a heroin overdose in a Staten Island mall bathroom.

The Times wrote, “‘What does that tell you, the death in the mall?’ said Luke Nasta, the director of an addiction treatment center. ‘It’s part of mainstream society. Bright, shiny glass and nice stuff. The abundance of America, and using heroin and succumbing to an overdose. It’s a crosscut of society. It’s here. There’s no denying it.’”

Heroin is here — in Maine — and it’s taking a terrible toll on families.

The best way to fight back is with facts and science, not half-baked anecdotes and crazy economic theories.

We need to fight addiction — and, frankly, we know what needs to be done.

Keeping the minimum wage at a substandard level doesn’t fight back against addiction. If anything, keeping people locked in low-wage jobs only makes it worse.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at