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Think maximum wage, not minimum

Taking a break from local politics, Market Squared makes the point that your anger over the minimum wage increase is perhaps misdirected
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Two big employment stories happened Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, minimum wage was raised to $14, and on Tuesday, the average Canadian CEO made more before the mid-morning coffee break than the average Canadian will make all year.

Guess which one people are more angry about?

As the gulf of income inequality continues to grow, the one substantive move by any government or industry to do something about it has been pre-emptively cast as the “Blunder of the Year” within a few short days of it’s implementation.

People can be forgiven for thinking that because the local TV news has done no favours on presenting the benefits.

Every story I’ve seen on the subject of the minimum wage hike has focused on the effect of the hike on small business. This cannot be denied, and it will undoubtedly be a challenge for those proprietors, but nowhere in that reporting has any effort been made to talk to minimum wage earners about what the increase will mean to them, nor has an effort been made to look at the challenges of people “living” on minimum wage.

Part of the problem is that media continues the false perception – intentionally or not – that the only people working minimum wage service jobs are stay-at-home parents looking to make some extra money while the kids are at school, and young people making money after school or between classes. This is not the whole story of the current employment climate.

Not at all.

There are people who are “under-employed” making minimum wage. A generation of recent university graduates who were sold an I.O.U. about a bright future where all you need to get it is your bachelor’s degree.

There’s also a generation of unskilled labour now in the service industry workforce. These are the people that were once able to walk into a factory the day after graduating high school and get a job on the line with a starting salary of $20 per hour. Now, most entry level factory jobs require some kind of college or post-secondary training.

And if we’re dispensing with the familiar notion of who makes up minimum wage earners, let’s also dispense with another notion: that these workers don’t deserve to make a living wage. I know, I know, that’s not what you mean by being against the minimum wage increase, but it kind of is. If you’re earning minimum wage it’s because you’re lazy, unskilled, uneducated, unreliable, unambitious, et al. Right?

Speaking as someone that’s spent most of his working life making minimum wage, I know we work long hours, we’re sometimes asked to do things outside our job description, we’re forced to make up for absent colleagues, we’ve been so swamped with work we skip breaks, and we sometimes have experience and expertise that can’t be easily replaced. Does any of that sound familiar?

I mention this because I saw a thread online where people already making $14 and $15 per hour were taking exception with the minimum being inflated. I saw someone complain about minimum wage workers, to paraphrase, getting a raise when this person was stuck making $15 an hour after having their salary frozen for the last few years, and they can’t even make ends meet.

Missing there was any sense of irony that if you struggle paying the bills at $15 per hour, then how the heck are people making $11.60 per hour supposed to do the same?

Truthfully, this is class warfare. The lower castes are getting ahead, and the perception is that they don’t deserve it. Again, the ire of the middle class is drawn down, against the ones trying to join them, instead of upwards at the executive offices, who are leaving it all in the sometimes flimsy hands of government to level the playing field. In so much as you can level a field this tilted.

On the Overheard at Guelph Facebook page, the fount of all (local) wisdom, someone posted a picture of their pizza box from Pizza Hut that had a note that said price increases were coming due to the minimum wage increase. This person blamed Premier Kathleen Wynne, but how about the CEO of YUM!, the fast food conglomerate that owns Pizza Hut?

According to NPR, Greg Creed makes at least $22 million per year for being the head of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell, which is nearly three times more than the CEO of McDonalds.

Now I know Pizza Hut is owned by franchisees, but couldn’t the corporation offer a commensurate cut in franchise fees to account for the minimum wage hike for Ontario owners? Of course they could, but our society has come to expect nothing from corporations, and corporations have come to expect our cynicism and apathy in return. Look at what happened in the U.S. Congress before Christmas.

The other corporate argument against raising the minimum wage is that it will cost jobs. Businesses like Shoppers Drug Mart, for example, will replace their cashiers with automated scanners for checkout. As if Shoppers Drug Mart is waiting for a reason to save on overhead by replacing expensive people with cheap and obedient machines.

Let’s keep in mind that Galen Weston, the CEO of Shoppers’ parent company Loblaw, while being one of the loudest opponents to the minimum wage increase, has also acknowledged the company's part in a 14-year campaign to fix the price of bread. 

So I’m forced to ask the question of those angry about the minimum wage increase: why are you siding with the inheritor to the second biggest fortune in Canada versus the workers in the grocery store?

But if the word and opinion of big business means so much to the man and woman on the street consider this, Goldman Sachs (yes, that Goldman Sachs) did a study of 13 states in 2015 that had raised the minimum wage and discovered that economic growth in this baker’s dozen increased faster than in states where the minimum wage remained the same.

This same article referenced a study by the Chicago Fed from 2013 that said an increase to the minimum wage of just over $3 translated into $28 billion more in consumer spending. I should point out that this article I’m quoting from was in Forbes, and not an echo chamber for the looney left.

Strangely, I’ve always found Confucius enlightening when it comes to economic matters. One of teachings says that if you want to get success for yourself, then you should help others succeed. In this instance, if giving your pizza delivery man or woman a living wage means a couple of extra bucks for your pizza, it means you’re helping yourself too.

The alternative is to make working people, and those helping them, the enemy, and in the end aren’t we all working people? Being focused on what some people are getting and what others are not while getting angry about it is, in the end, what the autocrats of the world want. That way, you’re not getting mad at their doings, which is why they now make more than twice what you’ll make all year in just one working week.