The decision by newly minted British Columbia Premier Christy Clark to raise the provincial minimum wage to $8.75 on May 1, increasing to $10.25 in a year, will do little to improve the lot of workers at the bottom of the pay grid.
In 2001, B.C.’s $8 minimum wage was the highest in Canada. It’s stayed there ever since, while other provinces have recognized the ever-increasing cost of living by raising theirs. Now it’s the lowest. Even after the initial boost of 75 cents this May, B.C. will still have the lowest minimum wage in the country.
Think of all the things that have become more expensive in the past 10 years: rent, utilities, gas, transit, clothes, food. In fact, it’s safe to say no staple of everyday life is cheaper today than in 2001.
According to Statistics Canada the low-income cutoff for a single individual with no dependents living in a large city in 2009 was $22,229 before taxes. That’s $11.11 an hour for a 40-hour week, 50 weeks of the year. And that two year old statistic is still almost a dollar more than our minimum wage will be a year from now.
Imagine trying to feed, clothe and house a family on less than $22,000 in Metro Vancouver, where the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is more than $1,100.
The price of poverty goes beyond non-existent bank accounts and absent luxuries. Substandard housing and poor nutrition from an unbalanced diet often lead to health problems, putting further stress on an already burdened health care system. Kids who go to school hungry or without the supplies they need to do their work often perform poorly and get left behind, making it difficult for them to pursue opportunities later in life that will free them from the cycle of poverty.
Business groups say they can’t afford to pay a higher minimum wage.
Reality says we can’t afford not to.
– Black Press