Report: Minimum Wage Increase Will Level Playing Field for Maine Small Businesses

Portland-area small business owners gather in support of Question 4, the referendum to raise Maine's minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. 

Small business owners and other supporters gathered at Coffee By Design in Portland today to release a report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) explaining how the state’s current, low minimum wage puts Maine small businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

“On average, large businesses pay just a little over $10 per hour, while small businesses pay almost $13 per hour. That is a big difference that adds up to over $5,500 per year,” said NELP researcher and policy analyst Yannet Lathrop. “For low-income families, $5,500 is a significant amount of money that could make the difference between paying rent on time, or falling behind and risking eviction. Buying enough food, or going hungry between paychecks. Going to see a doctor when needed, or letting a minor condition get worse until it requires a trip to the emergency room.”

The report is based on an analysis of U.S. Census data for the retail industry—one of Maine’s lowest-wage sectors—which shows that while small and large businesses employ roughly the same number of workers in Maine, small, local businesses pay significantly higher wages.

“I’m grateful for every one of the 45 employees who work in our coffee shops and our roaster, for every farmer who grows our beans and for every customer who walks through our door. We’re all in this together,” said Mary Allen Lindemann, co-owner of Coffee by Design. “Community-based businesses are more likely to reinvest locally and, as this report shows, they show a greater dedication to their employees, including by paying higher wages than the national chains they’re often competing against.”

Lindemann is one of more than 500 Maine small business owners who have publicly endorsed the referendum to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 in 2017 and then by a dollar a year until it reaches $12 in 2020. After that, it would increase with the cost of living. The sub-minimum wage for service workers who receive tips would also increase gradually to reach the minimum wage.

“I'm one of the 159,000 Mainers who would get a raise when this referendum passes,” said Kyle Scott, who works as a cashier at a Portland grocery store. “I'm an example of the many, many Mainers who are trying to pay rent, support their families, and pay off student loans. That's impossible on poverty wages. I work hard, have an advanced degree, and can't make ends meet. I support the campaign to raise Maine's minimum wage. Yes on Question 4.”

“Small businesses across Maine support increasing the minimum wage, not just because it will help level the playing field with national chains, or because it will boost our economy by putting more money into the pockets of our customers, but because it’s just the right thing to do,” said Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “There are thousands of Maine seniors who work hard and can’t afford to retire and too many mothers are making poverty wages and struggling to feed their kids. It’s long past time to raise Maine’s minimum wage.”

The full report can be read at: