It’s the holiday season. A time for family, friends, thanks, and reflections. My family and I traveled to New York City for Thanksgiving this year. We attended the Macy’s Day Parade, dinner in the city at a fine restaurant, and then the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall. A must for everyone’s bucket list.
While enjoying the day, I couldn’t help thinking about all the people working to make our holiday enjoyable and safe: the hotel staff, restaurant workers, cab drivers, police and even the Rockettes. All working on a holiday. My son works in hospitality. To get Thanksgiving off, he’ll work Christmas and New Years. My neighbor’s daughter is a nurse. She’ll likely be working too. With all these people working the holiday, I’m wondering what’s the outrage about department stores opening Thanksgiving night. Are their owner’s really greedy capitalists?
The world doesn’t shut down for the holidays. How could it? Sure it’s easy to point a disapproving finger at retail operations, but should we also shut down hospitals, nursing homes, gas stations and airports? If you had the day off, hopefully you enjoyed it; if you worked, maybe you got holiday pay. Regardless, all the outrage is a bit misdirected.
In that vain, let’s talk about the demand that Wal-Mart pay its workers at least $15 per hour, a 106% increase over the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour! Now anyone who has read my columns know I support a minimum wage increase and I’m clearly no defender of Wal-Mart. But before we demand these adjustments, we need to fully understand the implication of $15 per hour or any government mandated pay adjustment. If we require Wal-Mart to increase their pay, then every company must do so, and that includes the shop in Ogunquit and the nursing home in Biddeford. And having designed many a compensation plan for my clients, you should know that if wages are increased at the bottom, it is likely every employee’s wages must go up.
Frankly, upping everyone’s pay may be a good thing, but business owners, big and small, still need to find the money to pay for it. They are not going to sacrifice profits, and frankly small businesses might not even have the money at all. As for the big boys, stockholders in publicly owned companies would not tolerate a drop in profits. They want a return on their investment and before you blast these greedy fat cats, remember these “stockholders” are made up of everyone who has a retirement or 401K plan. In other words, us. So prices go up and you end up paying these pay raises out of your retirement or at the register. If you’re ok paying more at the grocery store, hardware store and yes, Wal-Mart, then by all means, continue the push. If not, redirect your outrage.
Forbes once again came out with their list of best states for business and Maine is in the cellar. Actually, this year we climbed to 49th, beating Mississippi. What, no applause? This is not a time to cheer and I’m sure few gave thanks for this ranking at Thanksgiving dinner. But, we need to do something about this and blasting Augusta will not solve the problem.
Maine’s economic growth is hampered by a number of things, but I want to address one this holiday season: our need, as a people, to be more welcoming. Before I get letters, hear me out. We need workers in Maine. Our population is not growing enough to sustain long-term growth and the state reports that after 2019, an aging population will further hamper our growth. Older people don’t have babies and many seek to retire. We need young people to move to Maine, not leave. If we can’t produce them, we need to recruit them. Here’s where the welcoming things comes in both from a big picture standpoint and from an individual perspective. On a macro level, we need common sense immigration reform that welcomes a steady flow of legal workers into our state and country. Immigrants will not steal our jobs. Immigrants are going to be the fuel that feeds our economic engine. We need them to work in our restaurants and farms and we need the real smart ones, who go to our colleges and universities, to stay and work in our technology firms and to start companies here in Maine…and that means jobs. And when these immigrants come across our borders, we need to welcome them with out-stretched arms.
And finally, one last thing we can all do right now: we can stop referring to non-Maine born individuals as people “from away.” As someone “from away” I can tell you, it is not very welcoming and frankly, it is down right hostile. It sends the message that you’re not one of us and that’s not the message we want to send. In no other part of the country have I ever heard this reference. We need the people from away.
Outside many of our churches we see signs noting, We need to embrace this and adopt this as our new state motto. We need to take down all barriers for people and businesses to come to Maine to live, raise a family, work or start a business. Everyone should be welcomed. It makes good business sense to be this inclusive, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.
OK, give me a second to get down from my soapbox to wish all of you and yours a happy, healthy Christmas, holiday season and New Year!