We Need a $15 Minimum Wage

Graphic: Nico Holzmann

Quebec Labour Minister Dominique Vien announced that Quebec’s minimum wage would be increasing to $11.25 in the spring.

That is what anybody working a minimum wage job would consider a step in the right direction. However, is this going to be enough considering we live in an increasing costly society? Why not follow the lead of Seattle, WA. or the province of Alberta, which are both in the process of implementing a $15 minimum wage?

Often, we will find ourselves working two or more jobs just to be able to compensate for the high cost of living. Today, it is easier and cheaper to buy a Junior Chicken than it is to go to the grocery store, buy ingredients and prepare a home-cooked meal. This is the reality for those living on minimum wage.

Restaurant workers stand around and listen to people complain about prices and how their food was not made to their liking, and we take it because we know we need the job. We think about quitting at least five times a shift, yet we go back every week. Not only would a $15 minimum wage help, it would be necessary.

Everybody wins in a $15 minimum wage society. Not only will the people on the bottom be lifted, but those making above minimum wage will inevitably see wage increases as well. The economy will be better because people will be making more money—and when you make more money, you spend more money. Some of us may even be willing to spend a bit more money in locally grown food and products made here in Quebec.

In 1965, the hourly minimum wage in Quebec was 85 cents (not adjusted for inflation). The cost of living was so low that people were able to live off of that. A loaf of bread was 21 cents. Do you know how much French toast and grilled cheese you can make with that today? Times have changed; our minimum wage must change with them.

According to Statistics Canada, in the past year, the average weekly earnings for Canadian workers rose by a little under half a per cent, while the inflation rate rose two per cent. So we are making a little bit more but we also have to spend more. The cost of living is rising five times faster than our wages. We are in a constant battle with money and the only way to ensure that we can win is by making sure our earnings match or surpass inflation.

The guarantee of a living wage will encourage people to get out and look for a job. It gives the government an incentive to get people out and contributing to their communities and their province. Crime rate may go down as well, as it tends to do when poverty decreases.

The burden of carrying school debts for the rest of your life can disappear faster with a higher minimum wage. By making more money an hour, students would be able to choose to work fewer hours—concentrating on school, which will lead to a decrease in time-related stress.

The number of people living off of minimum wage is very high. It is not just students or “young” people working those jobs anymore. Parents, single parent homes and low-skilled workers are only a few examples of some of the population that lives off of minimum wage. The government needs to see that mothers and fathers need to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads, but that’s hard when the minimum wage isn’t a living wage.

Social aid, or welfare, is a program that the government constantly puts money into but it is never enough. We still have people living on the streets and other people who are unable to get into the workforce because no jobs are available. With a $15 minimum wage, social aid will decrease. People will be able to fend for themselves and for their families.

Whenever talk comes of raising the wage, opponents point to possible negatives. Prices may rise, products may be of lower quality and there is the constant fear that robots are slowly taking our jobs. These fears are not all realistic.

Seattle has a plan for a slow increase of the minimum wage to eventually hit $15 for all businesses, and it is already $15 for large businesses and chains. They have seen the effects that it has on the citizens and they have seen that it is working to their advantage. By and large, the much-touted negative effects of the increase did not end up happening.

Before the increase was made official, many Seattle businesses claimed that they would have to increase their prices in order to compensate for the citywide $15 minimum wage. The interdisciplinary Seattle Minimum Wage Study team found that this has not actually occurred. There was almost no evidence of prices increasing in retail stores, grocery stores and restaurants. Economists say that the fear of job loss has not come true either, and it has been a year since it was first implemented.

I’m not saying to jump to $15 right away. The government needs to slowly increase minimum wage with a plan to get us to $15 within the next two to three years. It worked in other places. Why can’t it work here?