NEW REPORT: Rosy economic indicators mask Mainers’ lived experience in workforce

AUGUSTA, Maine — Household earnings and GDP are up. Unemployment and poverty are down. But do these indicators really describe the ground-level experience of Maine’s working families in today’s economy?

That’s the question tackled by this year’s “State of Working Maine,” the annual report report on the economic trends and forces shaping working families’ lives published today by Maine Center for Economic Policy.

“This year’s report provides insight into Mainers’ lived experience in today’s economy,” said James Myall, MECEP policy analyst and the report’s lead author. “Underneath the toplines, jobs without adequate benefits and predictable schedules are common, and inequality and insecurity persist on multiple fronts.

In 2018, the top 5 percent of households in Maine captured 21 percent of all income generated in the state, according to the report. The bottom 20 percent captured just 3 percent of all income.

The majority of Mainers experience the economy most directly through their jobs, so understanding workers’ on-the-job experiences is critical to understanding why Maine’s prosperity is not shared by all. This year’s report contains new, original analysis of workers’ experiences informed by a survey of Maine’s private-sector workers, conducted for MECEP by ALG Research. The survey allowed for the examination of benefits, schedules, satisfaction with employers, and other data not captured by traditional sources.*

MECEP’s analysis shows that while Maine workers have a generally positive view of the state’s employers, they want better benefits and protection to improve job quality — and see a role for the state in creating those higher standards. 

Other key findings in “State of Working Maine 2019” include:

  • The economy creates one set of conditions for white workers, and worse ones for workers of color. Wage disparities are well-known but are just one of the structural barriers making it harder for workers of color to thrive. Nearly one in five workers of color have experienced discrimination on the job, a rate nearly three times as that for white workers. Jobs held by workers of color offer poorer working conditions, fewer benefits, and less predictable schedules. Workers of color are more than twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their employers than white workers.
  • Small businesses provide fewer benefits to employees. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees account for roughly one-third of the state’s jobs. Jobs at smaller companies are less likely to offer benefits such as employer-sponsored health insurance, paid sick leave, and paid family and medical leave.
  • Reliable pay and full-time, year-round work remain elusive for a large swath of Maine’s workers. 15,000 Mainers experienced at least one form of wage theft last year, while disintegrating overtime protections mean even low-salaried workers are made to work long hours without extra pay. More than one-third of Maine workers between 16 and 64 years old did not work a full-time, year-round schedule in the past year. And nearly one-third of workers has an unpredictable schedule dictated at least in part by their employer, with or without the workers’ input.
  • Majorities of workers support state-level policies to guarantee benefits and expand worker protections, including anti-wage theft policies, fair and predictable scheduling requirements, more inclusive overtime protections, and employer-paid family and medical leave. These policy solutions were supported by self-identified Democrats, Republicans and independents.

“Workers’ experiences reveal the need for solutions to improve job quality so that all Mainers benefit from a growing economy, and some of those solutions already command broad support among Maine’s workers,” Myall said. “Our state’s history with successful policies such as the increased minimum wage have proven that we can reshape the economy so that it works for all Mainers, regardless of their race, gender or the community they call home.”

Click here to read the full “State of Working Maine 2019” report. 

* (Full survey results and methodology are included in Appendix A of the report. Crosstabs are available upon request.)