When the calendar flipped to October last week, minimum wage workers across Ontario saw a modest bump to their hourly wage.
Not enough to suddenly catapult into a higher tax bracket, but better than nothing, even if it was close to nothing. Workers across the province must now receive at least $14.25 an hour, an ever so modest increase from the $14 an hour minimum they were entitled to in September. That’s $10 more a week for someone who works 40 hours, before taxes.
There are a few exceptions-such as liquor servers who go from $12.20 to $12.45 per hour-tips supposedly make up the difference says the government. Students go from $13.15 per hour to $13.40 per hour.
The increase represents the first government mandated increase since Jan. 1, 2018, when the general minimum wage went from $11.60 per hour to $14. According to the provincial government, the latest 25 cents an hour bump reflect the Ontario Consumer Price Index for 2020.
The increase is no doubt a welcome one for thousands of workers who earn the minimum. Welcome in the sense that it’s better than a hole in the head, but most would argue still falls short of what is truly needed. While it is true Ontario now has the third highest minimum wage across the provinces-B.C.’s $15 an hour and Alberta’s $14.60 an hour lead the way-studies show Ontario’s wage still falls short of meeting basic needs.
In 2019 Ontario’s Living Wage Network released a study in which it examined the cost of food, clothing, shelter, transportation, childcare, medical expenses and recreation in several regions across the province. According to their research, someone living in Kingston must earn at least $17.57 an hour to meet basic needs. In Hastings-Prince Edward the living wage rate checked in at $17.35. Toronto was the highest at $22.08. Most noticeably, all 20 communities listed had living wage rates that were at least two dollars an hour higher than the current minimum wage.
On the surface the simple answer would be to demand the government raise the minimum wage to reflect actual cost of living-but that’s a tough sell in any year let alone the middle of a pandemic that has caused havoc on the federal and provincial economy. Anytime a minimum wage increase comes into effect there’s stories of employers who say they’re forced into layoffs. No one wants to lose a job they desperately need. In many cases It’s not about living outside their means, it’s simply a case of having too much month left after all the money has been spent on necessities.
If a higher minimum wage isn’t the answer, maybe it’s time take a good long look at other costs of living and finding ways to make the livable wage and minimum wage fall in sync.
Someone working 40 hours a week and still being unable to pay the bills is a problem that needs to be addressed, no matter how you look at it.