Friday, December 2, 2022

If You Work, You Should Earn a Living Wage

On Monday of this week, the United Way of Bruce Grey issued a media release in which they offered a calculation and an explanation of what a living wage in our area is, and what it should be.

In short, if you are a single person working full time, earning less than $40,000 per year, you are not earning a living wage.

As the United Way explained in their media release, a living wage is what a worker needs to earn, per hour, at 40 hours per week, in order to make ends meet where they live. A living wage is one that will cover the basics along with some minor creature comforts, but it is not a wage that will allow for tropical vacations, or expensive sports cars in the garage, it is simply the amount we need to earn in order to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, and to ensure that we can clothe ourselves.

“We look at major expenses that workers face such as shelter costs, transportation, childcare, and food. We also take into account other expenses such as internet access, a modest annual vacation, and clothing. Any applicable government taxes, transfers, and benefits are factored in as well, and what we get is an hourly wage that a worker must earn in order to make ends meet where they live,” explained local United Way Executive Director Francesca Dobbyn.

While many have fought for years to increase the minimum wage, the lowest amount that an employer can pay an employee, it is a fact that a minimum wage cannot pay the bills. Someone earning minimum wage often cannot afford an apartment, let alone transportation, and the movement toward recognizing a living wage has helped to highlight the raw deal that the lowest paid among us have been handed.

From my perspective, if you work full time, you should earn enough to live, not to scrape by, and not to have to augment your income with visits to the food bank. You should be able to pay the bills, and even enjoy a modest vacation each year.

Just as the business community has pushed back against increases to the minimum wage, they resist the push toward a living wage. We can’t afford it, businesses might say, but the reality is that for many they can’t afford to be paid an insultingly low wage and be expected to survive.

I hear the most resistance to the entertaining of the notion of a living wage from those who earn far more than a living wage, from those who have the McMansions and the fancy cars. Pull up your bootstraps they might say, put your nose to the grindstone. Antiquated notions, that are to be blunt, ridiculous.

Not too long ago I was part of an online discussion with folks from across the country about living wages, and a few expressed thoughts along the lines of ‘why should someone flipping burgers earn as much as me?’ A common thought that we have all heard expressed from time to time, but again, it is ridiculous. Why should anyone work full time for less than it costs to actually live? Whether it be someone who flips burgers, or a dental assistant, we all deserve to feel confident that the 40 hours or more that we put into our jobs each week will provide us with the funding required to pay the rent, and to fill the fridge with food for the week, but currently that is not the case, far from it in fact.

The provincial government proudly announced the increase to the minimum wage last month, an increase from $15 per hour to $15.50, still a long way from a living wage, which in our part of the province would amount to more than $20 per hour. As was noted in the United Way’s media release:

For Bruce Grey, 3 demographic profiles were used to generate the standardized Living Wage for Bruce Grey:

· Single person: $19.12

· Single parent with 2 children: $24.74

· 2 parents, 2 children: $21.05 for both parents

Nobody who works full time, or who cobbles together two or three part time jobs should earn less than a living wage, full stop. To suggest that some jobs aren’t worthy of a living wage is repulsive to many.

I have spoken to business owners who scoff at living wages and point to the minimum wage as the appropriate mechanism for determining wages, but the minimum wage laws are flawed.

Had minimum wages been adjusted for inflation each year, the minimum wage of the 1970s would be more than $20 per hour today, and funnily enough that amounts to a living wage. But the minimum wage was not adjusted for inflation each year, and in fact there have been periods of several years without any increase at all. The minimum wage system as it stands is not a fair system, and it does not ensure that if you get out of bed and go to work every day that you will be able to afford to live.

Nobody who works 40 hours per week, no matter what the job, should have to visit a food bank in order to have enough food. Nobody who works 40 hours per week should need to seek out winter clothing donations in order to keep warm on the way to work in the winter. Nobody who works 40 hours per week should be worrying about how they are going to pay the hydro bill before the electricity is turned off.

We need to rethink our system, and I think that ensuring a living wage to all who dedicate 40 hours per week to earning profits for business owners is not asking too much.

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