The government is gradually increasing Alberta’s minimum wage from $10.20 in Oct 2015 and to a cap of $15/hour in Oct 2018. Fifteen bucks an hour. This increase is not going to land anyone in the lap of luxury–$15/hour is $3.14/hour below the living wage for Calgary which currently sits at $18.15—and yet some Albertans are fighting the increase.
It’s unnecessary and bad for the economy
Critics oppose the increase because:
- It’s wasted on the kids: Not so. Only 30% of the Albertans working for less than $15/hour are teenagers, almost 50% of the people earning less than the new minimum wage are married adults, 40% of them have kids of their own.
- Workers can make up the difference in tips: This assumes two things: (1) it’s okay to eke out a living dependent on the kindness of strangers and the tipping protocols of restaurant owners and (2) the majority of minimum wage jobs are in the food industry. In fact, only 20% of the minimum wage jobs are in food services. The remaining 80% are in sales (wholesale and retail), care providers, educational, legal, and public protection support, education and paraprofessional occupations, natural resources, agriculture, and transportation and heavy equipment operation and maintenance. When was the last time you tipped the lawn guy?
- The increase will damage the economy: This complaint is usually accompanied by an n=1 story of a restaurant owner who’s cut staff in anticipation of a yet-to-be-implemented increase. It ignores the fact that only 6.4% of Alberta’s work force earn less than $15/hour and creates the impression that paying these employees an additional $1.40/hour will materially impact Alberta’s economy which is simply not true.
- Boosting the minimum wage means all wages will increase: This is correct to some degree, but guess what, earning a living wage is not a bad thing. In fact, it will prevent what Robert Kuttner describes as a “collective loss of purchasing power [that keeps] the entire system in a downward economy spiral and a slow-growth trap.”
The “cost of doing business” mindset
Conservatives often argue that the cure for all that ails us is the dignity of hard work. It’s time for them to recognize that the dignity of hard work is crushed by the drudgery of working for poverty wages.
A person is not a widget. His labour on behalf of his employer is more than a mere input into the cost of doing business, it’s his “livelihood”. The price of a human being’s livelihood cannot be determined by market forces alone.
A business owner who insists Albertans should be happy working for less than $15/hour has no respect for human dignity.
And a business that is competitive only because it is permitted to grind out products and services on poverty wages will not be economically viable for long.
Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? By Robert Kuttner