Middle-class economics spoken here at Baldacci Lewiston spaghetti dinner

Middle-class economics spoken here – Joe Baldacci’s Op=ed in the Lewiston Sun Journal

joeat_lawofficesmilingBangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci | Sunday, June 21, 2015

I want to invite people to attend a Baldacci Spaghetti Supper beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 26, at the Elks Lodge, 1675 Lisbon Road in Lewiston.

Noted local and statewide speakers will discuss the minimum wage and middle-class economics. The dinner will be an opportunity for local and state leaders to celebrate unity and discuss middle-class issues in Lewiston.

All proceeds will benefit New Beginnings, which helps at-risk young people in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

I look forward to serving up a lot of spaghetti to the good people of Lewiston-Auburn.

The L-A economy and community are at a crossroads that requires unity and leadership to open the Twin Cities to new beginnings and more prosperous times.

Lewiston-Auburn has a proud working-class history and has shown signs of revitalization. But, with tough economic circumstances continuing to affect the region, leaders with bold policies are needed to address underlying community and economic challenges.

According to the 2013 American Community Survey results of the U.S. Census Bureau, 34 percent of K-12 students in Lewiston are living below the poverty level, with some schools nearing astronomical poverty levels.

A shocking 98 percent of students at Gov. James B. Longley Elementary School are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, eligibility for which is determined by the poverty level.

At Lewiston High School, where approximately 1,400 students attend, there are 132 students identified as being homeless, representing nearly 10 percent of the high schools’ populations.

“It isn’t right,” said Jim Wellehan of Lamey-Wellehan Shoes in a recent conversation I had with him. “These kids are going to bed hungry. One of the biggest determinants of a kid’s success in school is the poverty level. Something needs to be done.”

In my hometown of Bangor, the majority of students also qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch and the numbers are similar in many of Maine’s larger service-center communities. I think we, as a state and as a people, can do better.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10 percent of Lewiston’s workforce earns less than $9 per hour, which is $1 less than what the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reports as a living wage in Lewiston for single adults, and $10 short of what MIT calculates as a living wage for a single parent.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one in three children in the Lewiston school system are currently being raised by single mothers. At today’s minimum wage, thousands of single mothers in Lewiston would have to work an unfathomable 116 hours a week simply to survive without government assistance.

Because of the dire social circumstances, low wages, sub-sustenance minimum wages and the rising cost of living, nearly half of Lewiston residents have had no choice but to accept public assistance.

Thankfully, some are heeding Jim Wellehan’s call that “something needs to be done.” Leaders in Lewiston and all across the state are recognizing that there is powerful momentum growing in Lewiston and all over Maine to promote a new and more positive middle-class economic agenda.

They realize we must re-establish a political movement that champions jobs and rising wages, a middle-class movement that recognizes that raising wages for working people helps reward work over welfare in a way more concrete and tangible than anything that is being done in Augusta.

The dinner on June 26 represents what could be a moment of unity for Lewiston-Auburn leaders pushing for a minimum wage increase and other middle-class issues.

The event will bring local leaders, such as Gina Melaragno, Jim Wellehan, New Beginnings Director Bob Rowe and former Lewiston City Planner Jim Lysen, together with state leaders, such as former state Sen. Eloise Vitelli, Maine People’s Alliance representatives and health-care activist Donato Tramuto, in a way that will engage the community in a conversation on middle-class issues.

Highlighted at the event will be the Maine Peoples Alliance’s petition drive to gradually increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour, a figure that would bring enormous benefits to Lewiston-Auburn.

More than 25 percent of the Lewiston-Auburn’s workforce would receive an immediate raise if the minimum wage were to increase to $12 per hour.

Joe Baldacci is a former mayor and councilman of Bangor. He lives in Bangor.

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