STATEWIDE – A policy center in Augusta has completed a study on Maine’s workforce, and while compared to years past Maine as a whole is doing well, that doesn’t always include the average Mainer.
Maine’s GDP (gross domestic product) has finally recovered back to its pre-recession level and unemployment is at about three percent. That’s according to a study from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, which said while those are good things, they hide some problems.
“We know that only tells us so much about what’s actually happening for working families…four in ten Mainers don’t have the cash to cover a $400 emergency,” said James Myall, a policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
In interviewing around 400 Maine workers, researchers found issues like wage theft, no health insurance or paid sick time, and seasonal jobs that don’t offer a stable income.
“A lot of folks, you know, generally have a good opinion of their boss and the company they work for, but even with that there’s a lot of sense of insecurity,” said Myall.
Despite the GDP being up, it’s that insecurity that sometimes leads workers to seek additional help, like at Penquis in Bangor.
Penquis’s CEO and president, Kara Kay, said in the more than 50 years they’ve been in the area, they’ve had more people than ever needing assistance this year.
She said some of the reason for that need is due to a “benefits cliff,” in part coming up because of the rise of Maine’s minimum wage.
“Minimum wage up is a wonderful, wonderful thing, but what we’re hearing from a lot of folks in the community is as they come into a job and start to make slightly higher money, they lose access to critical things,” said Kay.
Things like food assistance…
Penquis officials said they provided a record breaking number of Thanksgiving turkeys this year – five thousand of them.
According to Kay, a solution to that could be gradually decreasing benefits, instead of taking them away when a person hits a certain income.
Policy analysts point to paid sick time and cracking down on wage theft as a couple of ways to help.