Is the Labor Shortage Laziness or Common Sense

Stephen L Dalton
Maine State Seal.Clker Free Vector Images - Pixabay

Many people blame the labor shortage on the government’s paid benefits to help former workers to help them make it through the pandemic.

The labor shortage phenomenon is not only in Maine but across the USA and globally.

According to NEWSCENTER Maine [1], “There is a new minimum wage in Maine starting in 2021, now set at $12.15 per hour. That's just a $.15 increase from 2020. Starting in 2021, Maine will now begin increasing the minimum wage based on the price of living index in the state each year.”

Most of the homes with two wage-earners before the pandemic have figured out that it is not worth it to pay daycare to work for $12.15 an hour (let's not forget some restaurants, taverns, and bars pay the minimum direct service wage of $6.38 an hour). By the time they pay for transportation and childcare, they spend more than they make to work. It doesn't pass the common sense test.

Let’s just say you are earning $12.15 per hour, and you typically work 40 hours a week. Therefore, you would earn $486 gross or before taxes and other deductions. Let’s also say that your net pay after deductions is $400 per week. So, for one month, you will get $1,600.
Portland Housing Authority.Wikimedia - John Shirley

How Much Is Rent

Maine is precisely at the mid-point for states nationwide. The average for a 2-bedroom house or apartment is $849 or number 25.

According to Maine Fair Market Rent 2020 [2], “The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Maine (statewide) was $849 a month.”

However, in Cumberland County (Portland, Cape Elizabeth area), it was $1,982. In Penobscot County, $1,011. So, if you are single or live with someone, you’ll have $751 for other expenses; in Portland, you need a smaller place. Maybe you better get a studio for yourself. In Penobscot County, you will have $589 to buy groceries, pay the utilities, car payment (better hope you don’t have one of those), insurance, etc. You’ll likely have to depend on your significant other to help you get through every month.

If you live in a more expensive area, such as Portland or Cape Elizabeth, you will pay around $1,982 per month. You better hope you don’t have many kids and need a four-bedroom, which will cost you $2,413. Of course, these are averages, and you could find cheaper if you look around.

Let’s say you live in Houlton or a comparable city and pay just $720. Lucky you, right?

Let’s also say that you both work and earn $12.15 per hour. This is the Maine 2020 minimum wage. You have a modest car payment of $299 a month with full coverage insurance that costs $60 per month. Not bad, right?

You start each month with $3,200, minus the $720 and $359. You still have $2,121 after rent and car.

Oh yeah, you might need two cars because you both work and your hours and work location don’t permit you to travel together. Now, you have $1,762 before childcare, groceries, clothing, your phone, utilities, automobile gas, and an occasional pizza or night out.

How Much Is Childcare?

According to Procare Solutions [3], “Center-based childcare for a four-year-old child in Maine costs an average of $691 every month, while care for an infant is slightly more costly at $787 per month.”

Now, subtract childcare for one four-year-old and one non-potty trained infant. That’s going to cost you around $1,478 per month if you can find suitable childcare or get a government supplement. Many will have to get a relative or friend who will watch them for much cheaper if possible. Since you’re both working, childcare is required, but more than one of you earns.

Some of you were already thinking about one of you staying home, but your expenses were such that you couldn’t. —And, the arguing about which was driving you crazy anyway. Then, the pandemic happened, and you no longer had a choice or a job. But thankfully, unemployment benefits let you see the light.

Suppose one or both of you could work from home (WFH) and make the same amount or more. What do you think you are going to do? One or both of you are going to stay home and watch the kids. It just makes sense.

Final thoughts

Next time you think about the labor shortage is due to laziness, think again because not everyone lives in Houlton or is willing to move there to get cheaper rent. No offense to the folks in Houlton. I’m sure they’re fine people, but it’s just not likely.


1. The NEWSCENTER Maine article, Maine Minimum Wage Increases for 2021 by Sean Stackhouse, 5 January 2021.

2. The article, Maine Fair Market Rent Data for 2020, consolidated from the Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Fair Market Report (FMR) 2020.

3. The Procare Software Solutions article, Childcare Cost by State by various contributors, dated 24 June 2021.

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Stephen Dalton is a retired US Army First Sergeant with a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Top Writer in Virtual Reality, Sports, Short Story, Design, and Creativity. I especially like writing about design and home improvements.


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