College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

USM Contributes to Portland’s Minimum-Wage Discussion

As the city of Portland grapples with the issue of making a citywide mandatory increase in the minimum wage for all workers, faculty from the University of Southern Maine (USM) are contributing their expertise to this important discussion.

 Two USM faculty are members of Mayor Michael F. Brennan’s 26-member Minimum Wage Advisory Committee. A recent USM graduate also is on the committee, working on its behalf as an intern in the Mayor’s Office.

 An open, citywide discussion on the minimum wage, including Brennan and the advisory committee, will be held 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 20, at Rines Auditorium, Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square. The public is encouraged to attend. For more information, contact Judith Rosen at 874-8685 or email,

USM’s representation on the advisory committee is an example of how the university acts as an important resource to the community, in keeping with USM’s vision of being “Maine’s Metropolitan University.”

“Our USM faculty have the depth of knowledge and the dedication to service that makes them excellent resources for the city of Portland,” said Manuel Avalos, dean of USM’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. “Our USM student-interns also show this great determination to serve their community. I am very pleased to see this kind of public outreach. It is typical of what we do here.”

Brennan called for a citywide minimum wage increase in his February “State of the City” address. He has since said the minimum wage could be raised from the state-mandated $7.50 an hour to $9.50 an hour by January 2015. The mayor formed the multi-member advisory committee, which will make its presentation next week.

Two of the USM representatives are from the USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences: Luisa Deprez, USM professor of sociology and Women & Gender Studies and Department of Sociology chair, and Michael Havlin, a 2014 USM graduate with a double major in economics and business, who has been working as an intern this summer in the Mayor’s Office.

“I was asked by Mayor Brennan to be on the committee and readily agreed,” said Deprez. “I teach classes in poverty and social class, and much of my scholarship is centered on low-income women raising children on their own.

“In each of these arenas, it is clear that in this economy, with its dearth of well-paying jobs, that the two important avenues which will enable people to gain security in their lives and in the lives of their families is increased wages and education,” the professor continued. “The minimum wage that presently exists only barely raises a single person above the poverty line. Most people working minimum wage jobs need to have more than one job to be able to live, be housed, eat and clothe themselves. So I was enthusiastic about being a member of this committee, because raising the minimum wage is both urgent and timely and long overdue!" 

Deprez noted that Portland's leadership in the state is important and can enable such a raise to happen statewide. “Additionally most minimum wage workers are women, and for them, ensuring any degree of equity will require raising minimum wages,” she emphasized.

Havlin, who is from Hampden and this fall will attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst as a graduate student in public-policy administration and regional planning, obtained his internship and the position on the advisory committee through the USM Department of Economics. For the last two months, he has attended the committee meetings, conducted research and performed other tasks related to the minimum-wage issue for Brennan and the committee.

“My final work for the committee consists of an analytic report to submit with the proposed ordinance, which I also drafted,” the USM student said. “Next Wednesday, I will make an introductory presentation of the research that I and the committee conducted, and I also will help define the parameters of the discussion.”

The third USM representative is Charles Colgan, USM professor of policy and management and department chair for the Community Planning and Development Program at the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service. He also is associate director of the USM Center for Business and Economic Research and a senior fellow at the Center for the Blue Economy in Monterey, Calif. 

“I was asked by the mayor to help understand the possible implications for the city and regional economies if Portland adopted a higher minimum wage,” Colgan stated about his part on the committee. “In the early part of the process, I provided an overview of the literature on minimum wages and some of the issues that other cities are trying to address. I have answered some additional questions from the mayor since.”

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