Restaurant Canada wants Alberta’s $15/hour minimum wage reduced for youth, liquor servers and people with disabilities.
Mr Kenney says he’ll consider a reduction for youth and alcohol servers. No word yet on his position on people with disabilities but given his rhetoric (see below) we can assume people with disabilities will be on the receiving end of a “differentiated” minimum wage as well.
Mr Kenney defended his position with this: “Take all the government programs you want. None of them replace the value of a job. The greatest social program is employment. And the greatest creator of employment for young people – for people with modest levels of human capital, for first-time hires – is the restaurant and food services industry.”
There are a lot of problems with this rationale, not the least of which is the reference to “people with modest levels of human capital”. When asked to explain what he meant by the phrase, Mr Kenney rejected the notion that he was referring to people with disabilities; he said he was referring to people with lower levels of education and training.
Mr Kenney’s not-so-cogent rationale
Let’s take a look at Mr Kenney’s rationale starting from the top:
“Take all the government programs you want. None of them replace the value of a job.”
This is bombastic. Surely Mr Kenney is not saying government programs offered by the departments of Education, Advanced Education, Health, Seniors, and Children’s Services are not as valuable as a job to the children, students, seniors, people seeking medical care, and their families regardless of whether they have jobs or not.
“The greatest social program is employment”.
Mr Kenney is a conservative, he of all people should know that corporations are legally obligated to serve the best interests of their shareholders, not their employees. If corporations were in the business of providing social programs, they would not lay off employees at the first sign of an economic downturn and Albertans’ employment statistics would not yo-yo up and down with the boom/bust cycle.
“And the greatest creator of employment for young people, for people with modest levels of human capital, for first-time hires, is the restaurant and food services industry.”
Mr Kenney listed three distinct categories of potential employees. Let’s examine them one by one.
“Young people”: Restaurant Canada reports the food services sector is not the greatest job creator for young people—it provides just 1 in 5 youth jobs. This tallies with a recent federal government report on youth employment which identified the retail trade and accomodation sector, not food services, as having the highest youth employment.
“People of a modest level of human capital”: Here’s where Mr Kenney stepped on a land mine. When asked what he meant by this he said he was talking about people with lower levels of education and training. “A 14-year-old taking his first job doesn’t have the same human capital level in training, education and work experience as a 30-year-old experienced worker with a university degree.”
Of course not, Mr Kenney, but it’s highly unlikely a 14 year old high school student will be applying for the same job as a 30 year old university graduate, but if he does and he has the skills necessary to satisfy the job requirements, he should be paid the same minimum wage as the 30 year old because “human capital” as defined by Investopedia means the economic value of the worker’s skill set, it has nothing to do with his age.
“First time hires”: It is true that the food services sector is the number one source of first time jobs, but this does not explain why first time hires should be paid less than their co-workers who’ve done a stint behind the counter at A&W.
What are we really talking about?
In The Art of Logic in an Illogical World Eugenia Cheng says one way to tease out what someone is really saying is to ask yourself whether there’s a sense in which the statement can be true.
The furor over Mr Kenney’s comment concerns what he meant when he said, “people of a modest level of human capital” should be paid less because they have “less training, education, and work experience”.
The only sense in which Mr Kenney’s statement can be true is if employers hire people (not youth and not first time hires) who lack the training, education and experience to do a job and refuse to give them the training, education and experience they need to do the job, forever.
This is not how it works on the ground. Employers do not make a practice of hiring people who will be in over their heads–forever.
This is nothing more than an illogical and pathetic attempt by Mr Kenney to deflect attention away from our suspicion that when he referred to “people of a modest level of human capital” he was talking about people with developmental disabilities.
Notley’s minimum wage legislation addresses the only characteristic young people, first time hires and people with developmental disabilities have in common—a lack of bargaining power. It prevents such employees from being exploited by unscrupulous employers. It should not be repealed by politicians courting votes.
But while we’re on the topic of human capital, Ms Soapbox couldn’t help but notice that when compared to Rachel Notley (who graduated with a BA in Political Science, earned a law degree from Osgoode Hall, worked as a lawyer and served 10 years in the Alberta Legislature, the last four as premier) Mr Kenney is woefully underqualified for the job.
By his own definition he is a person of modest human capital.