Let’s talk about minimum wage again. It’s getting close to September 14th, when advocates of raising Ontario’s minimum wage will be staging actions across the province. In the meantime, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is responding saying that the minimum wage should raise only with inflation. If minimum wage had kept up with inflation from the $1/hour it was first set at in Ontairo in 1965, then it would be $18.93/hour today. Obviously we haven’t kept it up with inflation and now with it so far behind pinning it where it is would be unethical.
Raising the mimimum wage with inflation is a great idea if, and only if, it is first set to a decent level.
Right now the $10.25/hour minimum wage is 19% below the poverty-line. If we pin it to inflation like this we are locking minimum wage workers into a below-poverty level wage. What we need to do is raise it to $14 an hour (that’s 10% above the poverty line) and then tie it in with inflation. Keep it above the poverty line, not below.
I did a couple of different radio interviews the last few days on this topic. Two of them were by phone but was one in the radio studio together with the president of the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. She said a high increase in minimum wage would cause businesses to go under. Are we really okay with saying that in order to keep certain businesses operating we have to keep a large number of people – 1 in 10 working Ontarians – living below the poverty line? (Keep in mind 50% of those people are going to be working for huge corporations making great profits.) Surely if we want to protect those businesses that genuinely would go under we could find alternative ways of doing so.
Later she said that the government could help people out of poverty other ways, such as training and education so they can get other jobs. What I am left wondering is, if getting people out of poverty requires them to get out of those jobs, who is going to do those jobs? Don’t we still want those jobs done? We still want service industry jobs to exist, right? Just paid fair wages and treated with respect.
There are multiple benefits to having a higher minimum wage.
I get tempted to point out to people that raising the minimum wage means increasing the amount of money that people have to spend. Household consumption drives the economy. I get scared of using that phrase “consumption” because from an enviromental point of view consumption is a bad thing. Yet consumption can be of non-polluting items. A person can ‘consume’ a night at the local theatre watching live-actors perform on stage, and having a large income can allow a person the money necessary to put into buying environmentally friendly purchases rather than relying on cheap disposables.
A higher minimum wage could mean less stress for people and better health. At one Toronto Hospital Dr. Bloch says “Treating people at low income with a higher income will have at least as big an impact on their health as any other drugs that I could prescribe them.”
A higher minimum wage would open the door to raising the rates for social assistance. Right now Ontario Works barely pays the cost of a single bedroom in my medium-sized city, nevermind the costs for food and other day to day necessities. There is a province-wide campaign to raise the amount it pays. Businesses and politicians see low social asssistance rates as necessary to keep people working. If Ontario Works paid more than minimum wage, they assume no one would work for minimum wage and they wouldn’t have the cheap workers to fill their businesses. So if we want to raise Ontario Works amounts, then we have to raise minimum wage.
On September 14 there will be protests across the province. Those who cannot attend the protests are invited to participate online at http://raisetheminimumwage.ca/. Tweet with #14now.