We need to give working people and their families a hand up
Written by Barb Miller, MLA for Red Deer-South
One of the reasons that I ran for government in the last election was because I believe in social justice. I believe that people who work in a full time job should be able to afford the basic necessities of life like housing and food. In Alberta for many years that has not been happening. While wages and have gone up in many sectors, those earning the lowest amount – the ones on minimum wage – have been put in a tighter and tighter squeeze.
The squeeze is real. There have been many studies done by academics and poverty groups that point to the need for an increase in the minimum wage. Other reports have come out saying that an increase in the minimum wage will hurt businesses and lead to job losses. I can only decide based on what I know to be happening to people in Red Deer.
I have one friend who was trying to support his family on minimum wage. He worked about 60 hours a week hanging drywall for one company, and then worked Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights as a bouncer in a local bar. He succeeded, barely, in feeding and clothing and housing his wife and children, but he rarely saw them. Last Christmas I went to ask my local school principal if he could suggest a family that needed help with basic food over the holidays. He gave me five families to choose from. All of them, with working parents earning minimum wage. None of them able to afford enough food to last over the Christmas holidays while they were at home with their children. Last summer we had a Labour Day BBQ here in Red Deer. A family of five showed up, and when they all piled out of their car I noticed that it contained not only clothes but other household items like toothbrushes and shampoo as well. When they noticed me looking, the father explained in embarrassment that both he and his wife were working, but couldn’t yet afford to rent an apartment. So they were living in their car.
Before our government introduced legislation to increase the minimum wage, Alberta had the highest spread between the average wage and the minimum wage.
Another thing I think about when I see people living under the poverty line is how much it affects the rest of society. If somebody can’t afford housing or food it affects their health and their family’s health and they need a lot more support from the health care system. The people who are trapped in a low-income lifestyle are negatively affected in every aspect of their lives – in education, in health, in life expectancy and in what they hope for their future.
We all want something better for the future. We all want to our kids and grandkids to have at least the same chance that we did to make their lives a success. It’s not getting any easier to do that, and really when you look at what the boom economy has done it’s actually getting harder for people in the minimum wage bracket. Before our government introduced legislation to increase the minimum wage, Alberta had the highest spread between the average wage and the minimum wage. That meant that services and housing and everything was priced for a province that had the highest average wage in Canada, and the lowest minimum wage. We hope to take a small step toward closing that gap, and by doing so give working people and their families a hand up toward a better life.
It’s a sad fact that there are over 100,000 working parents in Alberta that earn less than $15 an hour. These people are there for us every time we use a service or buy a product that relies on their labour. Personally, I think it’s time that we showed them that we’re here for them too. I’m happy to pay a bit more for what I buy so that someone else can have the dignity of a decent wage.