I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my dad, who I miss even after 20 years. He would be appalled at the political environment in which we now find ourselves. He was a moderate Republican who became quite a writer of letters — to me, to his congressional representatives, to corporate heads, and to the editors of both the Palm Beach Post and the Morning Sentinel.

The debate over raising the minimum wage sparked a memory of one of his letters to the Palm Beach Post. He wrote it when Republicans in Congress were fighting an increase in the federal minimum wage. His congressional representative voiced his opposition at a public event they both attended, so my dad decided to take a trip to the local library to do some research.

According to the letter he penned, the rhetoric against an increase didn’t match the facts. His letter concluded, “If we want to change welfare, people have to be given a greater incentive to want to work. Raising the minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living is therefore mandatory. When it comes time to vote, how about the voice of reason rather than the Republican line?”

His research, as well as current research, shows that raising the minimum wage boosts small businesses by putting money into the pockets of hard-working Americans who are right on the edge of poverty. When workers’ jobs pay enough to lift them out of poverty and reduce the need for public assistance we all benefit, because the people benefiting from an increase spend that money locally.

Question 4, the minimum-wage referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot, is about seniors who can’t retire. It’s about single parents, often struggling to provide for their children and make ends meet on $15,600 a year for full-time work. It’s about tipped workers, overwhelmingly women, who are more than twice as likely to fall under the federal poverty line. And it’s about 63,000 Maine children who will benefit from one or both parents getting a raise.

Wages haven’t come close to keeping up with the cost of groceries, rent, heat, insurance, transportation, and school clothes. At a time when the number of children living in poverty is such a problem, why aren’t we doing all we can to make sure they are living in households with enough money to make sure they are warm, well-fed and clothed? When our state is the oldest in the nation, why aren’t we doing all we can to assure seniors have enough money for heat and food and can afford to retire after years of hard, low-paid work?

Polls show most Maine small-business owners actually support raising the minimum wage. Our small winery and distillery Tree Spirits is proud to be among the 600 members of the Maine Small Business Coalition that helped initiate the campaign to raise the minimum wage.

At Tree Spirits, when we finally were able to hire an employee, we actually paid her a livable wage because we understand the importance of having extra money in your pocket. More money in employees’ pockets means more money is put back into the local economy. We hope some of that translates into more sales at our business, but whether that’s the case, more money floating around central Maine supporting other local small businesses is a good thing for all of us. Raising the wage strengthens our communities and begins to build an economy that works for everyone, not just large corporations and a wealthy few.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Even the corporate lobby groups that now oppose raising the minimum wage, such as the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, admit that Question 4 won’t have negative effects on small-business employment or prices of goods and services. As part of their push for a competing measure to the referendum earlier this year, they repeatedly cited research from the Institute for Research on Labor and Economics at the University of California that showed that a gradual minimum wage increase to $12 an hour will have only positive results.

In short, it’s a common-sense proposal with the backing of many small business owners that helps tens of thousands of Maine families who are struggling to make ends meet. My dad knew it made sense 25 years ago but families continue to struggle today. We can make our communities stronger by helping people, young and old, earn enough to pay for more than survival needs. This is a family issue, one of basic fairness, and really one from which we all benefit. I hope you will join me in voting “yes” on Question 4.

Karen Heck is a resident and former mayor of Waterville.


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