Maine’s economy is recovering, but we need to do more to ensure our economy works for everyone and does not leave working families further behind.

There are two narratives about Maine’s economy. In one, the state has recovered from the Great Recession of 2008. Those who offer this assessment point to the state’s unemployment rate, which reached its lowest level in more than 16 years this past April. The other narrative is one lived by Mainers across the state. The number of people employed in the state still is below pre-recession levels. One-third of working Maine families live in, or near, poverty; and a big contributor to this is the prevalence of part-time work and work in low-wage occupations.

Regardless of which narrative you subscribe to, recent shifts in the composition of our economy highlight the need to pair deeper analysis with action.

Over the last nine years, Maine’s economy has shifted dramatically away from middle-class jobs in manufacturing and construction toward lower-wage retail and hospitality jobs. This shift was not inevitable, and it is reversible. Maine’s legislators, who have the ability and the responsibility to nurture an economy that works for everyone, must do their part.

New data from the Occupational Employment Survey show that between May 2007 and May 2014, Maine lost 33,000 middle-income jobs in manufacturing, transportation, construction and administration. These jobs — which pay between 75 percent and 125 percent of the state’s median hourly wage — support middle-class families, the backbone of a strong economy. They also provide a livable wage needed to support a family and fuel other sectors of our economy through spending on goods and services.

Work in food preparation and service and personal care — two occupational sectors with the state’s lowest median wages ($9.50 and $10.50 an hour, respectively) — largely replaced our middle-income jobs. The number of personal care aides to the elderly and disabled has more than doubled since 2007, and Maine’s tourist economy remains strong. While these service job gains are important, they are not sufficient to propel a robust recovery.

Beyond limited worker pay, these jobs also lack essential benefits. Only a quarter to a third of low-wage workers nationally have access to paid sick leave. Employers offer only 41 percent of service-industry workers access to a retirement plan and only 39 percent access to medical benefits. Service workers are among those least likely to have access to paid family leave, and almost one in five don’t even qualify for unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Low-wage and benefit-poor jobs not only disadvantage those employees, but they hold our economy back. When staying home to look after a sick kid means losing a day’s pay, it’s no surprise that Maine women have become less likely to remain in the labor force over the last decade. Without paid sick leave, it’s no wonder that half of all food workers go into work even though they’re sick. Without access to employer-sponsored health care or retirement plans, these low-paid workers must save for their own retirements and pay medical costs for themselves and their families. But when working for a wage that’s below the cost of living that’s an impossible task.

Rather than pay a livable wage, employers rely on taxpayer-funded programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, General Assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and MaineCare health insurance to make up the difference for their employees.

The Occupational Employment Survey data do show that Maine has experienced growth in some high-income occupations — computer engineers and finance brokers, for example ― but increased numbers of health care practitioners (especially nurse practitioners and physicians) and those at the management level primarily drove this growth in “good jobs.” For the paper mill worker, the skidder operator, or the teacher laid off during the recession, such jobs are out of reach absent significant supplementary education and training.

Maine could, and should, do more to encourage the creation of jobs that pay a decent wage and provide access to health care and other essential benefits. Raising the minimum wage to $12 would lift the wages of many of those working in the lowest-paid occupations. Paid family and sick leave policies would offer more flexibility to workers, especially working parents. Accepting federal money to restore MaineCare benefits would ensure access to health care for thousands.

Lawmakers should also consider policies that encourage a new manufacturing agenda and nurture Maine-grown small businesses. Like the problems associated with low-wage work, these solutions aren’t new or radical. Other states across the country have adopted them. If Maine’s lawmakers want a 21st-century economy that offers prosperity for all, they have the tools. They just need the will and determination to act.

James Myall is a policy analyst with the Maine Center on Economic Policy.