Nov 10

Choosing People AND Profit: Reflecting on Living Wage Week in 2017

I couldn’t help but notice that since the announcement was made by the Ontario Government for a progressive minimum wage raise that would see us at $15 by 2019 (Bill 148), we have seen no shortage of voices forecasting doom and gloom for the economy. The voices of the over 50,000 citizens across the Halton Region that are currently eking out a living on minimum wage were conspicuously absent. The Halton Poverty Roundtable‘s vision is to see every resident of Halton with access to a livable income by 2026.

As a multi-sector catalyst who brings together resources and partners around innovative and systems-focused solutions around poverty, we embraced income security solutions because of the members at our table with the lived experience of poverty. The voices that have been telling us for the over six years that we have been working together, it’s not just about shorter housing waitlists and more food banks, it’s about having the dignity of choice, the dignity of being able to live and not just subsist.
There is a real need to change the questions we are asking around Bill 148. Instead of “How will businesses afford to keep their doors open with this coming wage raise?”, the question I believe we need to start with is “Should someone working full-time have to access social services (food banks, Ontario Electricity Support Program, etc.) to support themselves or their family?”
Here are some additional facts to consider:

• The minimum wage was frozen for 12 of the 20 years between 1995 and 2015

• 62% of small- and medium-sized business owners SUPPORT a $15 or higher minimum wage (47% about right + 15% too little) (See Campaign Research, June 2017)

• Nearly 30% of Ontario’s workforce earns less than $15 an hour, which means they are already below the poverty line, even if they work full-time. Poverty wages are bad for workers and bad for the economy because their low wages prevent them from being customers at local shops, beyond the bare necessities.

• The evidence shows 58% of employers paying less than $15 an hour are big companies (100 or more employees); and only 23% are small business.

ATTN_Living Wage Week_2017
This past June, 53 prominent Canadian economists signed a letter stating raising the Ontario minimum wage to $15 by January 1 2019 is a good idea and is economically sound. They conclude that taking all the research on minimum wage together shows that raising the minimum wage leads to little or no job loss. In fact, raising the minimum wage makes for better, more productive workplaces.

November 5th to 11th is Living Wage Week. Make a point to do some research on the other side of your views. Whether you are for or against a livable income. It will certainly make for a better conversation when you can understand and appreciate the various sides of this issue.
The report “Thriving in the City: What does it cost to live a healthy life?”, released this past September by the Wellesley Institute shares that, based on identical research completed in Mississauga and Toronto, for a single, working-aged individual, between the ages of 25-40, the cost of thriving is between $46,186 and $55,432 after tax. This isn’t a luxury lifestyle by any means; it means enough to afford things like personal care products, physical activity, transportation, etc. And a minimum of at $46, 186, we would be talking about $22.20 for a #thrivingwage.
The response to poverty in our communities must be a collective response. It’s a false dichotomy to pit social justice hearts against business; the real problem is poverty and the solution is working together as a community. It was Mahatma Gandhi who rightly said that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”


By: Leena Sharma Seth, Director, Community Engagement, Halton Poverty Roundtable