Let’s Talk About: Poverty and the minimum wage increase

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In Canada the poverty line is calculated by cutting the national median income in half. Anyone who lives below that — nearly five million people, one quarter of them being children according to the 2016 census — is considered to be poor. These numbers are old now, and on the ground the economy feels worse than it was two years ago. Stats Canada is known for being behind on their numbers and in this case it could be affecting the way we support our disadvantaged populations.

In comes the Ontario government with a controversial solution to the problem: a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour by January 2019. This increase has been much debated in nearly every forum. From bus stops, to Tim Hortons, to the house of commons, minimum wage has been talked nearly to death. It has been attacked in the media, who have overwhelmingly categorized the increase as a very bad thing. Regardless, it has happened. It’s too late to go back and so we move forward.

Some companies, however, have decided that the way in which they will move forward is to take this hit to their budgets out on their employees. In order to support their own bottom lines, companies like Tim Hortons and Little Caesars have cut breaks and raised prices. Tim Hortons corporate has condemned the cuts of their franchisees, but the damage is done. The impression now exists that Tim Hortons, the ultimate Canadian company, does not support their employees and would rather see them overworked than allow profits to fall. The same applies to other businesses as well. Corporate chain restaurants, where liquor servers already make far less money than their associates, are letting staff fall away, scheduling shorter shifts, and increasing tip share though actual tip percentages will most likely fall.

The thing about poverty is that it discriminates. Poverty is inherently racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic. Racialized, colonized and marginalized peoples are more likely to live below the poverty line, as many studies have proven over the last few decades. They have the hardest time changing their position in life and are presented with the fewest opportunities. The hardest hit by the economic crisis are getting hit again. The average middle-aged, white, male Canadian is not going to be hurt by this. People who already have difficulty finding employment because of how they look or who they love — if you think this doesn’t happen because it’s illegal you aren’t paying attention — are going to find themselves below that cut off line yet again.

How do we fight against the backlash? It’s simple really. Take your supposedly giant minimum pay cheque and put it to good use. Find those small, local businesses that the big corporations were so sure would be hit the hardest by the wage increase and give them your business. Remind those companies that everyone deserves a living wage, and smaller profit margins are not a good reason to refuse that.

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