As more and more provinces, states, and municipalities set out to increase the minimum wage to $15/hr, there is growing concern over increases in minimum wages resulting in fewer jobs and increased prices of goods and services.
The fears are founded. As we saw with the infamous Tim Hortons fiasco, some employers opt to take the easy way out and terminate their employees to save on labor costs.
The reality of the situation is that minimum wage in Canada and the US has largely remained stagnant in comparison to the increased costs of living and goods and services throughout recent years. In fact, adjusted for inflation, the US federal minimum wage is worth less than it was 50 years ago.
As inflation increases, minimum wage ought to increase in step so that those earning minimum wage are able to make ends meet.
Currently, according to the Livable Wage for Families Campaign, a living wage in Metro Vancouver is $20.62/hr; on average, the provincial living wage is about $18/hr. This is based on BC’s most common family unit: 2 parents, working full time, with two children.
This calculation takes into account food, clothing, rental housing, childcare, transportation, and a small amount of savings for emergency and illness.
That means those earning less than $18/hr are struggling to live comfortably, and those earning the current BC minimum wage of $11.35 are technically living with poverty wages. This is immoral and unjust.
As those of us residing in BC can vouch, the costs of living here are huge. Cities like Vancouver and Victoria are in the midst of a housing crisis in which the costs of rentals increase by the maximum allowable amount every year, eating away at the livability of our urban hubs.
On top of this so-called housing bubble, utility rates continue to increase as well. From 2010 to 2015 BC Hydro rates increased by about 18%, and are forecasted to go up another 40% by 2024; ICBC has said their rates could increase up to 42% by 2020.
One relatively straightforward way to alleviate some of the hardships associated with affordability crises like these is to increase the minimum wage to $15/hr.
After 44 years of Conservative governance in Alberta, and 16 years of Liberal governance in BC, Western Canada is witnessing a political landscape that is shifting towards the left. This means an increased focus on social services and people-first policies, as opposed to industry-first policies.
Businesses who practice Corporate Social Responsibility are already paying employees livable wages based on a philosophy that fosters environmental and social well-being. However, for businesses that don’t operate under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility, the onus falls on the government to set rules and regulations that look out for the well-being of citizens, such as increasing minimum wage.
Democratic governments are supposed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people;" not, of industry, by industry, for industry, even though that’s sure how our democracy seems to be operating.
Industry does not need more handouts, more tax breaks, or more subsidization. Those who need assistance are those struggling to eat, rent, buy medicine, and provide an education for their children.
Increases in minimum wage take place incrementally to allow business to adjust accordingly, and there are many examples of mindful governance strategies allow the minimum wage to increase with minimal negative impacts on businesses; see Seattle, for example.
An increased minimum wage will disproportionately affect businesses that depend on paying employees minimum wage, but are those really the kinds of businesses that deserve to be turning a profit by paying employees unlivable wages?
As Bernie Sanders said during his run for leadership of the DNC: “Millions of Americans are working for totally inadequate wages. We must ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty. The current federal minimum wage is starvation pay and must become a living wage. We must increase it to $15 an hour over the next several years.”
This is why, in my opinion, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour is no need to worry. In fact, it's reason to be hopeful.