Maine faces several overlapping challenges—including low wages, economic inequality, pay gaps across race and gender, and a political system that too often bends to the will of the rich and well-connected, not to mention the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated recession. By adopting policies to strengthen the power of workers, the state can take significant steps to address these challenges.
The need for action in Maine is clear. In 2019, the median real earnings in the state were just above $35,000—slightly below the national median. Worse, median household income in Maine has hardly budged in three decades—and only in 2019 recovered to levels above what it was before the Great Recession. In recent years, wage growth for Maine’s lowest earners has outpaced national averages, likely due to increases in the minimum wage. However, the highest-paid earners continue to accumulate a larger share of the gains, with the top fifth of households capturing nearly half of all income in 2018. More than 12 percent of Mainers live under the official federal poverty line, and more than 1 in 3 families do not earn enough to pay for basic expenses. In 2018, nearly half of Mainers reported that they would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense.
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Senior Fellow; Senior Adviser, American Worker Project