BC needs a higher minimum wage

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Photo Credit: Brandon Hillier
Photo Credit: Brandon Hillier
Photo Credit: Brandon Hillier

British Columbia has the highest cost of living of any province in the entire country and the second highest rate of poverty, yet the provincial government remains complacent about poverty reduction.

Recently, BC Jobs Minister Shirley Bond announced that after being stagnant for several years, the minimum wage would be raised by 20 cents to a measly $10.45 per hour. For the sake of comparison, once these changes go through in September, BC will have the lowest minimum wage in all Canada except for Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Even with the new increase, an individual with a full time job being paid the minimum wage and with no dependents will be $5,000 short of the poverty line if living in Metro Vancouver. We must ask ourselves: In what world does a “minimum wage” not provide for the most basic and “minimum” standard of living?

The minimum wage is an integral part of any poverty reduction plan. It is meant to help the commonly-termed ‘working poor’ — individuals who may work tirelessly at one, two, or even three jobs and yet barely manage to scrape by the poverty line, especially if responsible for multiple dependents. These individuals are not impoverished because they do not work hard, but rather because the wage floor has been set disproportionately low in comparison to the poverty line.

A robust minimum wage is not meant to replace government welfare programs targeted towards the unemployed, disabled, or elderly. Nor is it meant to replace socialized medicine and subsidized transportation. Rather, its purpose is to provide a predictable basic income for workers who are less in demand. It is a bastion of a healthy economy; the minimum wage gives consumers income to spend and contribute to the economy, rather than making them rely on assistance programs.

In what world does a “minimum wage” not provide for a “minimum” and most basic standard of living?

There are multiple progressive minimum wage systems worth considering in creating a policy that works for BC. For instance, in Australia, a country with lower than six per cent unemployment, the minimum wage is set at $16.87 (Australian dollars). The Australian system is flexible and progressive in that the high minimum wage is only for workers above the age of 20.

Those who are younger face a progressively lower wage, a policy which is quite rational. There is no justification for a 15-year-old to make the same wage as someone 10 years older with far more financial burdens.

Another possible approach would be a separate minimum wage for municipalities with higher costs of living. This is already in place in prosperous US cities such as Seattle and San Francisco, who have pledged to implement municipal minimum wages set at around $15. The status quo in which the province imposes a “one-size-fits-all” solution does not consider discrepancies in costs of living. Allowing municipalities to set their own minimum wage would allow each city a wage that corresponds to its own unique living expenses.

I can recall with a heavy dose of nostalgia the days when I earned minimum wage hanging clothes in a dusty old thrift store. While $10.25 was plenty for myself, I remember one co-worker in particular who worked a day shift at the store and a night shift in the fast food industry just to scrape by a living for her and her two sons.

For too many people, the current minimum wage is a sore excuse for actual poverty reduction. It is time the provincial government takes concrete steps to ensure that all BC residents can put food on the table.