I don’t know how they do it. I’m talking about people trying to make ends meet on the minimum wage.
Ten bucks an hour doesn’t go far. There’s no need for a calculator; the numbers are too small. At $10 an hour, and a 40-hour week, the gross is about $1,600 a month. Subtract taxes, EI, CPP, in some cases health benefits and, well, the take-home pay isn’t very much, especially in our hot economy.
A quick check of the classifieds shows many two-bedroom apartments in the St. John’s area are going for $700 to $800 per month. Let’s add the costs for electricity and food.
There is something wrong when $5.99 is the lowest price for a bag of apples. We may pay $2 for a head of lettuce and more than that for a loaf of bread.
I’ve already spent an hour of minimum wage pay, and there’s nothing on the sandwich yet.
The minimum wage increased from $6 per hour to $10 per hour between 2005 and 2010. The hike was badly needed and long overdue.
Now we have until mid-September to tell the government what should happen in the coming months and years.
I’m among those pushing for a reasonable increase, but hopefully the advisory committee will canvass the research and come up with other suggestions, as well.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business wants the government to hold the line on minimum wage increases and look instead at making changes to personal income tax.
They say this province has the second lowest basic personal exemption in the country.
Perhaps the government should once again raise the amount people can earn before paying taxes.
A group called the Make Work Pay Coalition made the case in 2008 that future increases to the minimum wage should be tied to the average wage increase in the province, or inflation, whichever is higher.
The idea may have merit. It’s been two years since those at the lowest end of the pay scale had an increase. Back then, we had the second highest provincial minimum wage in the country. Now we have to play catchup again.
Our current minimum wage is similar to that of most other provinces, with Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia among those offering a minimum wage that is slightly higher. Manitoba’s rate will also soon surpass the $10-per-hour mark. Things change quickly.
We hear the same pro and con arguments every time the minimum wage is reviewed.
For some, it’s a social justice issue, for others a matter of economics.
Once the minimum wage goes up, employers feel pressure to increase wages for other employees as well.
I’ve seen it happen in the retail sector. If one employee gets a 50-cent-an-hour increase because of government regulation, it’s a tough sell to tell their co-workers they don’t deserve more, too.
As wages go up, so do other employer contributions, all of that eating potential profit and having a possible negative impact on job creation.
Still, if employees don’t have a living wage, those lower-paying positions may be difficult to fill.
I have visited several places in the U.S. and on the mainland where takeouts and retail outlets had reduced hours because they couldn’t get employees to fill the available jobs.
The debate should never be about the kind of jobs that pay the minimum wage. Some positions require more training and skill; others more toil and patience.
We all depend on the services these workers provide. This is about being fair to the employee and the employer.
Government has a bigger role to play than dictating the hourly scale. It can help foster a culture of prosperity, with incentives for people and businesses to reach higher, whether through training, tax changes or other measures.
I’m confident the advisory committee will recommend some kind of increase, but their mandate also includes observations and findings on the issue. I hope they add some outside-the-box ideas for the future, as well.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at