A strong minimum wage supports Maine’s workers and creates an economy that is stronger for all of us. But year after year, opponents of the minimum wage seek to weaken Maine’s wage floor, exclude more workers from its protection, or slow Maine’s efforts to ensure all workers can earn a fair living.
This year is no exception: The Maine Legislature will consider at least five bills to cut Maine’s minimum wage for some segment of workers or delay cost-of-living adjustments that help ensure the minimum wage keeps up with the cost of living. If these anti-minimum wage bills were all enacted, Maine workers would lose approximately $193 million in wages in the year 2026.
Mainers’ wages have risen in recent years thanks in part to increases in the minimum wage approved by voters in 2016. Those increases have led to raises for tens of thousands of Maine’s workers, putting more money into family budgets and Maine’s economy. MECEP’s prior research on Maine’s minimum wage increases points to a number of benefits, including reductions in the number of children living in poverty and larger earnings for low-wage workers.
During the pandemic, it’s been clearer than ever that many of the most essential workers in our state are those who are paid the least. Those workers and their families are also essential to a strong and equitable recovery. Undermining their incomes with cuts to the minimum wage would only leave them behind.
Maine’s minimum wage law is working, and there is no evidence to suggest cuts are necessary. As we look to recover from COVID and the recession it spurred, policymakers should reject efforts to reduce Mainers’ wages.
Anti-minimum wage bills would hurt frontline workers
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have recognized Mainers in industries including retail, hospitality, and care work as essential. Many have called them “heroes.” Yet it is these workers who will be most harmed by proposals to cut Maine’s minimum wage.
Two bills — LD 455 by Rep. Daniel Newman and LD 774 by Rep. Joshua Morris— would preempt any municipal ordinance establishing a separate minimum wage. LD 455 also would prohibit any municipality establishing a hazard pay ordinance. Currently, Portland and Rockland have local minimum wage ordinances. Portland’s minimum wage will rise to $15 per hour by 2024, while during a state of emergency, the minimum wage is increased by 50 percent for those who cannot work from home.
These bills would result in a pay cut for an estimated 25,000 Maine workers by 2026 (23,500 in Portland and 1,500 in Rockland),1 who would lose a total of $60.8 million during the year. This does not include the impact of LD 455’s preemption of Portland’s hazard pay ordinance.
Another bill — LD 543 by Rep. Richard Bradstreet — would delay cost-of-living increases to the minimum wage, replacing the current annual adjustments with new ones to occur every three years. Under this bill, the next increase to the statewide minimum wage would not occur until Jan 1, 2024. By 2026, the minimum wage will likely be $13.40 per hour under current law,2 but would still be $12.90 per hour under LD 543, resulting in an inflation-adjusted pay cut of 4 percent for 222,000 Mainers workers – a loss of $114 million for the year.3
Lastly, LD 1047 by Rep. Shelley Rudnicki would establish a separate minimum wage of $9.75 per hour for Mainers under the age of 18 and for student workers under the age of 20 beginning in 2022. This would effectively be a $2.65 per hour pay cut for affected workers. Approximately 9,300 Mainers between the age of 15 and 17 would see this pay cut and would receive $6 million less in wages in the year 2026. Approximately 14,000 students aged 18 or 19 would also be affected, losing a total of $6.4 million annually.
If each of these bills to reduce the minimum wage were passed, Maine workers would lose approximately $193 million in wages in the year 2026.
A stronger minimum wage helps Maine families make ends meet, supports a stronger economy, and helps lift Mainers out of poverty. Lawmakers must support Mainers — including the essential workers who have helped our state through the pandemic, often at great risk and for little pay — by protecting the gains of Maine’s minimum wage and building on its success.
 MECEP analysis of US Census Bureau, American Community Survey public-use microdata, 2014-2018 and US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data, Q1 2019.
 MECEP analysis of US Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2019 data. Table S2001. Calculated assuming a 2 percent annual rate of inflation.
 MECEP analysis of US Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, outgoing rotation group data November-December 2020.