Minimum wage hike targeted in radio ads to run in Maine this week

The Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute plans to bring its fight against raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, up from $7.25, to Maine through a radio ad campaign this week, according to a press release from the group.

The public policy think tank — started by restaurant industry lobbyist and founder of Berman and Co., Richard Berman — said the new ads are based on its analysis of work by economists at Miami and Trinity Universities and a Congressional Budget Office study that predicted raising the minimum wage would cause businesses to cut a collective 500,000 jobs.

The nonprofit group, which launched the website, says it used the methodology of the CBO report to argue 57 percent of those jobs cut are held by women.

The New York Times reported in early February that the group running the ads in Maine is part of a new trend in Washington where groups on the right and left are increasingly “working in opaque ways to shape hot-button political debates, like the one surrounding minimum wage, through organizations with benign-sounding names that can mask the intentions of their deep-pocketed patrons.”

Here’s the text from the ad:

These past few years haven’t been easy for us in Maine. They talk about an “economic recovery” on TV, but times are still tough for many of my friends and neighbors. Instead of getting help from Washington, all we get are empty promises. like that promise that we could keep our health care plans if we liked them.  We all know how that turned out.  Lately, we’ve been hearing promises from politicians about the benefits of raising the minimum wage, but nonpartisan government economists say a half million jobs will be lost if it happens. The worst part is that nearly 60 percent of those lost jobs will be held by women. The last thing Maine needs is more broken promises from politicians I don’t trust. 

The ad is part of a national campaign that included a full-page ad in the New York Times in late February, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. It aligned eight members of a 600-economist group that supported the minimum wage hike in January with Marxist economic thought. (The group that organized the signatories also goes, to everyone’s confusion, by the acronym EPI. It is the Economic Policy Institute, a group supported by around 20 labor unions and a counter-point to its acronym-sharing counterpart, according to the Times.)

Bloomberg reported the group also characterized the group of 600 signatories — including seven Nobel laureates — as a minority of economists, based on a study by economists David Neumark of the University of California-Irvine and William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Board. A survey in February 2013 from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, however, found economists evenly split on whether raising the minimum wage would make it harder for low-skilled workers to find employment. Most (42 percent) said raising that wage floor would be good policy; 32 percent surveyed said they were uncertain.

The new campaign comes against a national and state-by-state fight over the minimum wage. Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill last summer to gradually raise Maine’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016 and then index it to inflation. Late last month, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017 and President Obama in January signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for employees of federal contractors, starting Jan. 2015. U.S. House Republicans unanimously shot down a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 in March.

Surely, as November nears, Maine and the rest of the country will hear more from groups like both EPIs on issues like the minimum wage. Let’s only hope we can sufficiently vet who is behind these groups that pay a lot more than minimum wage for ads designed to shape the conversation leading up to the November elections.

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.