Today is April Fools’ Day. It’s a day to tell a few jokes, have some fun, and be a bit of a prankster.
But today is also notable for something else.
It is also the day that British Columbia wins the shameful distinction of having the lowest minimum wage in the country.
That’s right — as of today, no other province or territory in Canada pays their workers less than in B.C.
And that is no joke.
Minimum wage in B.C. is $10.45 an hour. At this wage, a person working full-time and earning the minimum wage will live almost $6,000 below the poverty line.
This basic fact is something the premier and the B.C. Liberal government try to ignore. They set the minimum wage in this province, and in doing so they have chosen to leave hundreds of thousands of hard-working people in poverty.
The premier might be happy to turn her back on the growing ranks of low-wage earners, but the people of B.C. disagree with her on this issue.
In a poll conducted just a few weeks ago, 83 per cent of British Columbians think it is necessary to ensure a person earning the minimum wage can live above the poverty line.
Further, 76 per cent support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
In a province like ours, where the cost of living is so high, $15 an hour is the wage required to lift a full-time worker above the low-income cut-off (otherwise known as the poverty line).
Let’s put some numbers to this issue.
In B.C., there are more than 110,000 people earning the minimum wage. These are people earning exactly $10.45 an hour. Not a penny more.
But that number balloons to over half a million people when you look at how many people are earning less than $15 an hour.
Think of it this way: one-quarter of B.C.’s workforce (27 per cent of all working people) earn a wage that doesn’t bring them above the poverty line.
The premier works overtime to justify paying poverty wages by painting the image that all low-wage earners are just teenagers living in their parents’ basement, earning pocket cash for their next videogame purchase.
This is an insulting stereotype — and is far from reality.
Here is the picture that the Labour Force Survey paints for us when it comes to who is earning less than $15 an hour in our province.
The basic breakdown look like this: 60 per cent are women; 82 per cent are older than 20; and 13 per cent are seniors.
But there are other interesting statistics we can glean. Despite the premier’s rhetoric, the Labour Force Survey tells us that 68 per cent of these workers do not live at home. And 53 per cent have some post-secondary education.
But here is one statistic I find particularly interesting: the majority (51 per cent) of workers earning less than $15 an hour work for companies with more than 100 employees. These are not the mom-and-pop shops in your neighbourhood. These are large retailers and fast food giants. These are the businesses turning big profits to fund massive CEO salaries while their employees go to the food bank.
It appears that it is small businesses that strive to pay their employees well. They understand the value of loyalty and the cost of high employee turnover.
It is also small businesses that depend on support from the local community. That means working people spending their money at their businesses — taking their kids to the movies, eating at the local restaurants, buying more groceries, etc.
The public understands this argument too — 71 per cent agree that increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour would be a boost to the local economy.
We all know the hidden costs of poverty — on our health care system, our education system, our justice system, and our long-term economic sustainability. It is well documented that there are costs to us individually and as a society when we leave people in poverty.
And not only do we have the lowest minimum wage in Canada, we are also the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan.
There is no dispute that ending poverty is a complex challenge and there is no one magic bullet.
But you can’t tell me that paying working people a fair wage — a wage that places them above the poverty line — isn’t an important step in tackling this challenge.
It is time that Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberal government take this issue seriously.
Poverty is growing — we feel it in our communities, children and families are struggling, and the cost of living just keeps going up.
It is time for real action. And one concrete step the government can take today is to put a plan in place for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
It is one important step toward building an economy that works for everyone.