I recently celebrated 15 years in the leisure industry, where I love meeting new people, making a living wage and working with people who care about people. I’ve also been fortunate to live in a place with a high minimum wage. I pay taxes in Ontario so the government can pay its workers.
There is one group in Ontario, however, that has been left behind: the workforce who supports middle-class families. They work so hard, carry so much responsibility and, in return, are not supported, and that’s absolutely unfair. I was talking with a friend on the phone recently and she said that living with her parents after she’d just graduated from college was tough.
But she and her family managed; because she wasn’t supported, they didn’t. It wasn’t a new problem in Ontario.
What the former Liberal government failed to recognize is that businesses are forced to price their goods, services and workforces to the poverty line. In order to keep their costs low, businesses will have to trim their labor force, moving to low-wage service sector jobs.
I worked for a company that served the hotel business for several years. We had shifts on evenings and weekends, when many people are working. To compensate for our labor, we cut hours, offered less pay for more shifts and increased the price of our products. On nights and weekends, our staff worked significantly fewer hours — leaving them with the workload. Our company was hemorrhaging money and growing steadily.
We eventually realized that when Canadians are left at the end of the generational income ladder, the government steps in with a forced career path in which every elderly person at home is forced to care for him- or herself, living on less than the minimum wage. It’s happened in the Netherlands and Belgium, and Canada and the U.S. should not go a step further.
Growing up, I was taught that a certain level of class mobility was a given. A high-school diploma is a key to success, and the wages you receive as a worker reflect this. It’s not good enough to work hard, make a good living and worry about the bills; you need a nice home, food on the table and a few modest luxuries.
People living at the poverty line are forced to decide whether they can spend money on the school supplies their kids need to succeed in school, or whether they can pay the rent. In other words, they make so much less than their parents that they end up living at home and are condemned to a destitute future. It’s heartbreaking.
So that’s why the province of Ontario is currently discussing a higher minimum wage that will hit $15 an hour by 2023. The government hasn’t said how much it will pay ordinary workers to support them but the Vancouver Sun reported that retail stores alone would see a 75 percent increase in wages.
I say it’s long overdue and it’s not easy for employers who are dependent on their minimum wage employees. But I have no doubt that getting ahead will be a lot easier if we get the right kind of people on the right kind of paths. That’s why I think the provincial government should go further: They should ban temp agencies and require that those working for the public sector and those in the hospitality industry at a low wage be paid a “living wage.”
Each of us has a responsibility to do something about the growing gap between the richest and the poorest in our society. The sooner we address the root causes of poverty, the easier life will be for people in need. That’s why the Ontario government should act now to properly support workers, support Ontario families and spur their economic growth by raising the minimum wage to a living wage.
Victoria Angell is owner of Magnify Misery, a Toronto-based psychological counseling and consulting business.
The Washington Post