Minimum wage is not a livable wage

Ontario’s minimum wage workers should notice a slight increase in their paycheques this week.

On Oct. 1 the province’s new minimum wage officially kicked in, rising to $16.55 an hour, a full dollar and nickle above the previous rate. For a worker who works 40 hours a week, the raise will translate to nearly $2,200 more earned over the course of a year-before taxes.

The increase is certainly good news for workers. For students who work after school for a little extra spending money, it’s a nice little boost. Saving for that first car or perhaps that university education just got a little easier- even if ever so slightly.

For those who rely on a minimum wage job to pay for the essentials of life-such as rent and food-the increase was needed. But the question remains: is it enough?

When announcing the increase the Ontario government put out a release touting the fact that their province now has the highest minimum wage in the country. For compassion, British Columbia has a minimum rate of $15.65 an hour, Quebec at $14.25 and Alberta an even $15.

As great as that sounds, Ontario also ranks among the highest for cost of living. Depending on what it is one is trying to buy, generally speaking Ontario or BC is going to have the highest price tag. Trying to afford a home on minimum wage is a distant pipe dream to anyone living in Ontario-which admittedly isn’t the best gage for whether or not a minimum wage is a livable wage. While it would be great if anyone who worked 40 hours a week could afford their own house, that’s just not reality of today’s market. Fair or not, owning a house will require landing a job that pays more than $16.55 an hour-and any job that pays that is almost certainly going to require a skillset that comes with some sort of post-secondary education. That in itself is far from cheap and is becoming more of a risk these days as there is no guarantee its going to come with gainful employment after three or four years.

Housing market prices are one thing, but there’s so many additional costs that come with owning a home that one never fully realizes until they have their own home. (Who knew heating a home would be so expensive? Just another reason to hate winter).

While we’d be willing to concede not everyone is entitled to owning a house, what shouldn’t be debatable is being paid a livable wage. As it stands right now, minimum wage and a livable wage aren’t intersecting in most parts of the province. According to the Ontario Livable Wage Network, a livable wage in the Kingston area is about $19.05. With the price of everyday groceries skyrocketing, it’s probably a safe bet to guess that rate has only gone up over the last 12 months.

This month’s wage increase will certainly help. But the numbers show there’s still work to be done, and it needs to be done quickly.

-Adam Prudhomme

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