By Greg Price
I’m still on the fence a bit if $15 an hour for minimum wage come 2018 is the best solution to help end some poverty in the province.
There may be other viable solutions out there, but some of the comments I’ve heard from locals and commentary in the province against the $15 minimum wage initiative I find troubling in their logic.
First is the continual beating of the ‘teenagers don’t need $15 an hour to be flipping burgers’ drum.
It is troubling on multiple fronts. One is that somehow, because of your age, your work should be devalued. If you were to see a teenager helping herd cattle, mend barbed-wire fences, and bringing in crops on the farm, that somehow is of less sweat equity than a 30-year-old who is doing the same or less amount of work? Also, there is the implied notion that everyone making minimum wage or close to minimum wage are in their teen years or making their way through college. The sheer number of people that are needed to fill these highly-accessed jobs in these types of pay grades (fast food, retail, restaurants, big-box stores, hospitality etc.), makes it impossible to think that way and numerous studies prove those are not the age demographics.
Another assumption from the comment is that any job between $10 and $15 an hour must not take much skill to do, so why pay for it? Tell that to the many secretaries that hover around these wages that are centre to the office running smoothly. I’m sure every single job in the oilpatch does not need a Ph.D. or critical thinking skills, so should their wage be lowered by that logic? — of course not. There is also the inherent tone to the comment that somehow $15 an hour means all these people in menial jobs are living high on the hog somehow, realizing their champagne wishes and caviar dreams. This $15-an-hour experiment is going on in the United States as well and I almost spit my coffee out in laughter as Fox news weighed in, saying America is a nation of entitlement, bringing up statistics of how cushy the poor already have it with a high percentage of them owning microwaves and refrigerators. I was waiting for the statistic scrolling across the screen of all those mooching poor and their fancy indoor plumbing.
You have to factor in three more years of inflation when you factor in cost of living to 2018 when the NDP mandated minimum wage increase is supposed to come to full fruition and three years from now, people would be making a whopping $31,000, factoring in 40 hours a week, and working all 52 weeks out of the year —that’s before the government takes a slice. Somehow on this wage I’m not imagining any of these people are rolling up in their Porsches with box seats to Calgary Flames playoff games. A little bit extra consuming power in the economy yes, but for base necessities for the household, not high-end items of the affluent.
Another concern is how the raising of the minimum wage will raise the cost of everything for people and in essence, not give anymore purchasing power the increased wage was intended to do for the poor. There are approximately 383,9000 Albertans who make less than $15 an hour currently in the province according to provincial statistics. Given there is 4.146 million in the province according to October 2014 statistics, nine per cent of the population has this much power over the other 91 per cent of the population in the economy? If that is true, we are basically admitting the bottom 10 per cent of the working population should live in poverty just so our cup of coffee or hamburger isn’t 50 cents to a dollar more expensive? How can people be so poor and so few, but yet have their influence be so huge at the same time in the running of the provincial economy? If there is that much impact (which is up to debate), does not that in itself stress the importance of these jobs that service the economy, yet we believe these jobs should be marginally compensated? It’s a bit of a conflicting philosophy to say the least.
Another is the throw-away comment of, “well, they should be bettering themselves”…as they fill their coffee at 7-11 for the third time that day, or gas up along the highway. Fair enough, and probably the avenue I believe in most. But, a poor person (even more so if they have transportation difficulties getting to their advanced education/training) cannot simply spend years getting an education, incurring tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands dollars of debt with others to support at the same time and have the assumption it’s really just that easy. But once you start talking about highly subsidized or free post secondary or trades training, you get the screams from many of the evils of socialism or worse, call the thought communist.
If, say, you invested between $50,000 and $100,000 (with caveats of course) into someone’s post-secondary pursuits to find employment and that investment nets 40 years of gainful, tax-paying employment in which social programs are accessed minimally, does that notion not appeal to anyone using the most basics of logic in lessening the burdens of the social safety net long term?
But if one is not willing to explore that avenue, or even any other avenue to address working-class poverty, and also say $15 an hour for minimum wage is not acceptable, are these people then not saying full-time working-class poverty is acceptable in the richest province in the country, and we should just live with it?
No solution will be perfect in trying to end working-class poverty, but simply taking no action at all given all the evidence that is out there of the shrinking middle class, increased food bank use, fewer available good-paying jobs etc. etc. is showing we are becoming a province who is losing its moral compass. Fair enough of all these motions being passed across several governing bodies and business entities to have the NDP provincial government reconsider its $15 an hour minimum wage initiative. So then what is your alternative, attainable solution consideration in fighting working-class poverty?