-by Bill Dunphy
If you’re a middle-aged Nova Scotian, then you can probably remember your first job, possibly on a government grant, when 45 years ago the minimum wage was around the $2.50 an hour mark. It wasn’t great money even back then, not when the mines and the oil patch were starting young Nova Scotians off, with no experience, at $6.50 an hour along with bonus incentives.
The average annual income in Canada in 1975 was around $19,000 and a new home could be purchased, on average (and probably based on city prices) for $51,000. A new car cost about $3,800 and gasoline was 57-cents per gallon (yes, that’s 19 cents per litre).
The current minimum wage in Nova Scotia is $11.55. There are four provinces lower than that: Newfoundland and Labrador, $11.40; New Brunswick, $11.50; Manitoba, $11.35; and Saskatchewan, $11.06. Alberta is currently the only province offering a minimum wage of $15, with Ontario, at $14, closing the gap.
According to the ‘left-leaning’ Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a $15 minimum wage in 2019 would only be $1 more than the 1977 minimum wage when adjusted for inflation.
Imagine, if you can, that in 1975 a young person could buy a new home for less than three years’ salary. If you can buy a new home today for less than what you earn in three years, then you need to tell us who your banker is.
There are good arguments to be made for raising the minimum wage to a living wage, currently being seen as $15 an hour. Not that anyone will be rushing out to buy a new home or a new car, but when child poverty exists at the rate of one-in-three on Cape Breton Island, those extra dollars on a pay cheque would certainly help.
The New Democrats are promising a $15 minimum wage should they be elected in the upcoming provincial election, and the governing Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives better take that NDP promise seriously as it could become the overriding reason for getting the voters between the ages of 18-30 out on election day.
Businesses, especially larger ones in retail, fast food restaurants, call centres, and accommodations, have traditionally bucked any talk of increasing the minimum wage. They argue that they will be forced to raise prices, hire fewer people, there will be fewer jobs for young people, and no matter what the proposed increase it is always “too much, too soon.”
Those arguments tend to fade once an increase is in place. Businesses jack their prices regardless of the minimum wage going up. And workers in the service industry, who are largely young people, will still be needed in large numbers. As with every increase, businesses adjust.
And let’s not lose sight of the fact that there many workers out there performing skilled work, who have degrees from universities and community colleges, who barely make more than minimum wage and would stand to benefit from a higher baseline of salaries being established. People entrusted with the care of our seniors at nursing homes start out being paid under $15 an hour. The same is true for Early Childhood Education workers at day care centres, who have the responsibility of caring for our children.
Reducing income inequality should be the goal of any government, provincial or federal. A living wage is defined as the amount of income needed to provide a decent standard of living. It should pay for the cost of living in any location. It should also be adjusted to compensate for inflation. Establishing a nation-wide living wage, a wage in which no worker is forced to live under the poverty level, would help alleviate many of the difficulties faced by the ‘working poor,’ such as feeding their children, filling prescriptions, and paying their bills. A $15 minimum wage would be a good start.