Maine’s current minimum wage rate is $7.50 per hour. The rate has not been raised since 2009, so minimum wage earners have had a de facto wage freeze.

Between 2008 and 2011, the very top of the pay scale has continued to receive large bonuses and benefited from the “tax relief package,” of the past administration, which was recently renewed. Many in and outside Congress urge further reduction of programs meant to provide a safety net for the working poor and warn us that continuing unemployment compensation and expanding health care options will make people less willing to work for a living.

It is puzzling to me that many lower paid and moderate income workers continue to support policies that reinforce the increased stratification of our society. Most of us are working harder than ever — have less and less “free” time and are unable to stay in place. So large numbers of people are downwardly mobile — and many have lost their jobs, their homes and their health. Those in power and those of us who fear losing what little they have might learn compassion from the insight of Shakespeare’s King Lear:

Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en

Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,

And show the heavens more just.

Diana Avella