Poor wages you will always have with you

Brian Jones
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Politicians, bureaucrats and blowhards of the public prints — myself included — habitually throw around huge monetary figures as if they have first-hand experience with them.

I don’t know what $800 million looks like, or how bulky it would feel in my pocket. Anyone who hasn’t won a record-setting lottery can only imagine huge sums in an abstract sense.

It can help to visualize vast amounts in everyday terms.

For example, $800 million could pay the salaries of about 16,000 Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) for one year.

Anyone with $800 million could buy 2,400 houses in St. John’s.

If you had $800 million, you could attend 25 million IceCaps games — or, if you took a friend, the two of you could see 12.5 million games. (Assuming ticket prices remained stable, an AHL franchise stayed in St. John’s and you were immortal.)

Hand your kid a cheque for $800 million, and he/she could pay his/her tuition at Memorial University for 313,725 years, or, if they preferred to attend Harvard and are smarter than you ever were, it would cover their tuition for 20,000 years.

If you were even richer than Danny Williams and went to your bank to withdraw $800 million in $100 bills, it would take the teller 23 days to count them out, working 24/7 with no lunch or coffee breaks.

Cheap labour

No wonder it takes people of a certain mindset to be economists.

Even figures of far lesser amounts can be a challenge to comprehend.

Statistics Canada revealed this week that the minimum wage, calculated in real dollars adjusted for inflation, hasn’t gone up in almost 40 years.

The Canadian Press reported that, according to StatsCan, “the average minimum wage was $10.14 in 2013 and the 1975 wage, expressed in 2013 dollars, was $10.13.”

In 39 years, the minimum wage increased one cent.

Complicating the equation is the fact that the penny is no longer legal currency. Rounding off, 2013 is equal to 1975 are far as the minimum wage goes.

No raise in four decades. After the various chambers of commerce and boards of trade finish their standing ovation, they could perhaps send a representative to the podium to explain to everybody else why this is a good thing, beyond the selfish interests of their members.

The argument that a rising minimum wage kills jobs is deader than a doorknob at an employment centre.

The minimum wage hasn’t risen in more than a generation. Any jobs that have been killed apparently met their demise from another cause.

The mind reels. Teenagers getting their first job this summer will be paid the equivalent of what

their parents earned in 1975, if they were alive then and old enough to work.

On the plus side, youngsters won’t have to put up with lectures that begin with, “You think you have it bad. I remember my first job…”

It is amazing that so many people who run businesses don’t understand some basic laws of economics.

Sure, it’s better for Acme Ltd. if it can pay its employees a pittance. But if every company and business follows suit, consumers as a whole have less money with which to buy Acme’s products. In the long run, such a strategy is self-defeating. Union leaders have accurately dubbed this phenomenon “the race to the bottom.”

As is common with economics, the bad news is accompanied by worse news.

According to The Canadian Press, “The Statistics Canada report also found there is now a bigger portion of Canadians earning the minimum wage, with 6.7 per cent of all paid employees earning those wages in 2013, up from five per cent in 1997.”

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com and can be found on Facebook.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, Canadian Press, Harvard Acme The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • Roy
    July 21, 2014 - 08:50

    What a half story. The Min Wage rates quoted here are the national averages - not NL rates. Using NL rates, the Min Wage rate in 1975 was $2.20/hr which, adjusted for inflation, is $9.10/hr in 2013 - the current rate is $10.00/hr or a "raise" of 10%. I don't understand why he rambled on about $800 million, or even what that got to do with the Min. Wage. He could have made better use of the story to look at the NL situation, or how the Min. Wage compared with other wages (are they doing better or worse than Min wage), or explain why a "raise" would be deserved.

  • Robert Lewis
    July 18, 2014 - 09:40

    Business, especially big businesses, aren't paying less on salaries; they're just paying more to some and less to others. Between 1997 and 2014 minimum wage workers got no raises, unionized workers (where they still exist) did a bit better, while CEO salaries and dividends went up by more like 75%. And if Canadians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians won't work for minimum wage, then ship the jobs to third world countries or, where you can't, ship in third world workers, temporary foreign workers who the businesses in Lab West are crying for.