Raising min. wage will help reduce economic disparity

Is the minimum-wage increase a good idea?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Last summer, I turned down a dream job because it only paid minimum wage. The job was at a non-profit Toronto theatre company where summer students were hired through government grants. Because I couldn’t afford to come back to school making $271.25 per week during the summer, I accepted a mind-numbing job at Ontario Place that paid a whopping $10.75 per hour and spent my summer wanting to throw myself into Lake Ontario.

While I was lucky enough to have the option of choosing between several jobs, many Ontarians don’t have this luxury and are stuck working minimum-wage jobs.

Today, over one million Ontarians work for less than $10 an hour, mostly in retail jobs, temp agencies and fast-food restaurants. Anyone who has ever worked in these industries knows these people are extremely hard-working and underappreciated.

These workers aren’t all poor students like myself. Two-thirds of these low-wage workers are women, many are immigrants and single parents, and more than half are students struggling with huge debt loads thanks to ever-increasing tuition and inadequate government support. Ontario’s inadequate and insulting minimum wage, currently $8 an hour, unequally targets already struggling groups in our society and reinforces socioeconomic divides.

Some argue raising the minimum wage would hurt small businesses. However, only 29 per cent of low-wage jobs are in small businesses. While some of these businesses may have to make adjustments and suffer temporary losses, treating their workers fairly and acknowledging good work with good wages benefits them in the long run.

Families supported by minimum-wage salaries earned by full-time workers live in poverty. Although poverty is hardly a simple problem, it can undoubtedly be alleviated by a raising minimum wage.

It can be argued this raise will cause minimum-wage workers to lose their jobs or work hours, and that the government should address these problems by increasing social programs’ funding, subsidizing day care and low-income housing, and improving student-assistance programs. I agree these improvements are necessary, but these changes won’t happen immediately. Further, most recent studies show these layoffs aren’t happening.

Raising the minimum wage is an immediate solution, and like Toronto NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo argues, it’s the morally right thing to do. Our minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation and this has only widened the wage gap in our society. Most Ontario MPPs saw nothing wrong with increasing their own salaries by more than a full year’s worth of wages for a minimum-wage worker.

The McGuinty government has promised to raise minimum wage to $10.25 an hour by the year 2010. However, for adults struggling to pay the rent, parents struggling to feed their children and students already struggling with crushing debt loads, three years is far too long.

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