October is End Poverty Month here in Calgary we know that creating communities where women thrive is dependent on ensuring they have access to a fair, living wage. When the minimum wage went up to $15 per hour, we celebrated because it meant that vulnerable individuals in our community employed at minimum wage jobs are getting closer to earning enough to cover their basic necessities.
With the increase to minimum wage, we expected arguments against this important poverty measure that would be both fact and fiction. We knew there would be opponents arguing that those entering minimum wage jobs were teenagers living at home which is why we weren’t shocked when a local paper ran an article calling for a youth differential. However, after reading the article we were frustrated by the inflammatory assumptions that were made.
Let’s not make assumptions that a young person selling shoes is seeking to fund her next shopping spree or create expectations that a woman slinging beer should be expected to make up for low wages through her charm and customers’ tips.
The majority of minimum wage earners are women. Most are over the age of 20. One-third have children. Among the 25 per cent of minimum wage earners under 20 are youth who are buying groceries, saving for school, supporting families of their own.
Poverty is not a choice, it is the result of a system that has failed to protect and empower the most vulnerable in our communities. Thanks to the Enough for All campaign, we know that in order to meet your basic needs – shelter, food, clothing and transportation – plus expenses that provide opportunities for social participation, minimal asset building and unexpected expenses in Calgary, each person needs to earn $18.15.
In a city with a growing income gap, all workers need wages which meet their basic needs and empower them to live with dignity. An increase to minimum wage is one part of meaningfully addressing poverty and provides employers the discretion to select and pay accordingly, above a new threshold. No person should ever be forced into a position where they must decide whether they eat or pay rent for the month.
So, as you gather with your family and friends to celebrate the holidays this long weekend, think about those in need who are experiencing a less bountiful feast. As you pick up your groceries and fall goodies at the grocery stores this weekend, think about the women and men who are working there earning minimum wage to make ends meet and ask yourself if you could survive, let alone thrive, on $15 per hour.