By: Korie Marshall
A recent news story on CBC says that minimum wage jobs pay roughly the same as they did in 1975. It calculated the current average minimum wage across the country at $10.14 per hour, and the 1975 average, expressed in today’s dollars, at $10.13.
“That means workers in minimum wage jobs have gained only a penny an hour in purchasing power in 40 years,” says an economist with the United Steelworkers in the story.
I don’t know why that is surprising.
I guess the reason it is supposed to be startling, is we think people – society – should generally be better off over time. I think that may be true with medical science, with our understanding of the world, and our use of technology. But minimum wage workers are the very low end of the economy, and why anyone would think minimum wage is better now than it was 40 years ago is beyond me.
It goes to the heart of a lot of issues, and I think it is definitely a local issue. I know there are a lot of businesses who want to be able to use the Temporary Foreign Worker program, and I am sure they are struggling now that the rules have gotten tighter. I understand the argument that maybe there are not enough people who are willing to fill those jobs as they are – often part-time, usually service industry. But maybe instead of turning to a federal program to help bring people here temporarily, these businesses could think of ways to improve the jobs they are offering so that local people will want to take them. And offering more than minimum wage might be a good start. Offering a job that fits the life people want might be another good start, because it is not always about the money.
The problem is not only with minimum wage. I know from personal experience it can be very hard to get ahead, to get any sort of meaningful raise when you start out at the bottom. My first job paid minimum wage – $4.05 at the time – and two years later with the same company, after four “performance based raises” and two “promotions,” I was making $5.35 – only 10 cents above the new minimum wage. What that company touted as a benefit – their competitive raise structure – was really no benefit to me, and I didn’t know of any avenue I had to argue it. It certainly wasn’t a union job, and I didn’t know anything about unions at the time (I still don’t know much).
But just imagine if you are a single mom, and you are looking for a job. Even if you find one that pays a bit more than minimum wage, maybe $13/hour, you also have to pay for child care and your transportation, likely. I’ve heard childcare can be $7/hour, so that is not leaving much in take-home pay, Plus there is a good chance some of that money has to go to maintaining your vehicle so you can get to work, and you probably have to buy other stuff for your job as well – like proper shoes, some of your uniform, or other tools you need.
It’s not a very appealing start to a working life, and I can easily imagine why it is easier for some people to go on welfare.