Ontario makes minimum effort

The province recently raised the minimum wage, but is it enough?

Many Ontarians working minimum-wage jobs aren’t making enough to live off of.
Many Ontarians working minimum-wage jobs aren’t making enough to live off of.

Kelsey Leung, ArtSci ’14

Seventy-five dollars. That’s how much extra I’d make per month if I continued to work the same amount of hours per week I do with the upcoming minimum wage increase. Keep in mind, however, this is before taxes; with every little obsolete penny adding up, that figure gets even smaller.

In October 2013, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report encouraging Ontario to raise the minimum wage to $14.50 an hour. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) told the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel, the body that recommends changes to the Ontario government, that minimum wage should be raised to $14 an hour, saying that a “full-time worker earning minimum wage in Ontario has an income 21 per cent below the poverty line.”

The increase is a step towards inflation indexing, where businesses will be able to better predict how minimum wage will change over the coming years. Smaller businesses, however, believe this increase is more than they can afford to pay their workers and this will lead to job cuts. But, at the end of the day, job losses ultimately fall into the hands of minimum wage workers, who still have to deal with their own job insecurity.

From a student’s perspective, we’re usually the first to be laid off at a job because to many business owners, we are disposable. Particularly in a university city like Kingston, we make up a percentage of the population that doesn’t intend to stay here permanently. Most employers are looking for long-term employees and simply can’t afford to re-train and hire us every year or every few months.

Ontario, along with Nunavut, now has the highest minimum wage in the country after Kathleen Wynne announced last week that it will be increased to $11 per hour on June 1. Some people, however, including myself, don’t think this is enough of a change to deal with the underlying problem of poverty and the cost of living in this province.

While the increase considers the rate of inflation, it overlooks or conveniently forgets the fact that those who earn minimum wage generally have to pay rent and don’t have the luxury of receiving large enough loans to aid their situation. You can pay off your cell phone bill every month, but you still end up sharing an apartment with three to four other people.

It only seems logical to make the minimum wage a livable wage.

Students traditionally made up the majority of the minimum wage workforce, as school was (and still is) a determining factor that prevented them from holding higher-paying jobs with a more flexible schedule. This has shifted in the past few years, and now even more people who don’t attend educational institutions are working minimum wage jobs to pay off anything and everything. Rent, clothes, food, utilities and more all add up. While the increase in pay is needed (minimum wage hasn’t increased since 2010), people can’t live on that kind of salary.

Students also face intense financial pressure considering that tuition in Ontario has been on the rise, while minimum wage hasn’t. But, student or not, people are being forced to find multiple jobs to make just enough to get by, while remaining in debt.

There’s a difference between surviving, having to make sacrifices that jeopardize your well-being and being a bit tight on money and unable to purchase certain grocery list items. I know that I’m privileged enough to belong in the latter category, but I also know there are people who desperately need a more dramatic change ― not just to the minimum wage, but to the system as a whole.

While prioritizing finances and budgeting is an integral part of living with a minimum wage job, it feeds the notion that those who are living off the bare minimum shouldn’t be able to own “nice things.” It’s entirely possible for someone who lives below the poverty line to own expensive items. Possessions don’t always reflect a person’s living situation. Things can be given as gifts, and there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to something.

I won’t profess to be an expert on economics; I also can’t offer any grand solutions that will make both workers and business owners happy. However, even with the increase, minimum wage workers who work full time will still be below the poverty line.

Can we really even consider this a “minimum wage” when it leaves you with less than the bare minimum resources to live in this province?

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