A living wage is good for families

By Trevor Horne, MLA for Spruce Grove-St. Albert. First published in the Stony Plain Reporter Sept. 23, 2016.

Prior to being elected as MLA for the wonderful constituency of Spruce Grove-St. Albert, I spent many years attending university and working in the service industry - making minimum wage. The wage I was paid barely kept up with the costs of school, let alone living expenses, even if I worked full-time.

"...no one has ever been able to explain to me how keeping nearly 10 per cent of Alberta‘s population at below poverty wages is responsible."

I know the struggles many families in my community are facing as they try to make ends meet on less than $15 per hour. Across the province, 300,000 Albertans work for minimum wage. I hear the argument that many of these people are teenagers who are trying to earn money to buy video games and new clothes.

However, the truth is that 56 per cent of Albertans earning less than $15 per hour are over the age of 25. These are people who are trying pay for food, transportation, rent and child care. Even if we go back to the original argument that low-wage workers are teens and college students, so what? Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they don’t have financial obligations. And it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a decent wage.

Another argument I hear about raising the minimum wage is that it’s irresponsible to do it during this economic downturn. However, no one has ever been able to explain to me how keeping nearly 10 per cent of Alberta‘s population at below poverty wages is responsible. Our government consulted with business owners in order to roll out the minimum wage increase in a balanced way. The phased-in approach of a series of increases gives employers maximum certainty and predictability.

Certainty and predictability are also the reasons why our government passed all three annual increases at once, rather than make a decision year to year. Now business owners know exactly what the increase will be and when it will take effect. Businesses do benefit from a minimum wage increase. More money in workers’pockets, means more money for them to spend locally; after all, one business’employee is another’s customer.

Additional benefits include increased employee productivity and job satisfaction, as well as decreased turnover and training costs. Employers spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to replace workers who leave.

I know Albertans are hardworking people. And everyone in this province who works full time shouldn’t have to visit a food bank or choose between a roof over their head or electricity. Moving Albertans closer to living wage will give them the economic security and allow them to live with dignity.