By Roger Currie
What constitutes a reasonable income in 2015? As our economy continues to grow at a rather mediocre rate, far too many Canadians are stuck in jobs that pay not much more than minimum wage.
That’s $10.70 an hour in Manitoba, and $10.20 in Saskatchewan right now. The Northwest Territories will soon have the highest minimum wage at $12.50, while Ontario will be second at $11.25. In BC, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, you are allowed to pay folks who serve booze one dollar less, because it’s presumed they will make up the difference in tips.
One of the problems with minimum wage jobs is they often don’t include enough hours to be accompanied by benefits of any kind, like extra health and dental coverage. Even when someone works two or three such jobs in the course of a week, they frequently come up short and end up at food banks. That’s because both food and housing costs always go up faster than incomes for those struggling to stay above the poverty line.
When the minimum wage goes up, the hospitality industry in particular complains loudly that jobs will be lost, and it will only hurt those who need those meager wages the most. It’s a sad story in what is supposedly one of the fairest and most prosperous nations on earth.
For several decades, one of the alternatives that has been suggested is a guaranteed annual income of some kind. Support even comes from the Frontier Centre For Public Policy, the think tank based on the prairies that is not known as a hotbed of bleeding heart liberalism. They have quietly given qualified endorsement to the idea of a guaranteed income. They believe the savings that would result from scrapping the current tangled web of income support programs would be huge, and it would be fairer for everyone.
Might it happen anytime soon?
Probably not before the Leafs win the Stanley Cup.
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Roger Currie is a writer, storyteller, voice for hire, observer of life on the Canadian prairies, and can be heard on CJNU 93.7FM in Winnipeg.