A Living Wage

Everyone who is willing and able to work deserves to make a living. How to achieve that in our supposedly booming economy is another matter.

The gap between the rich and poor is growing wider, with the extremes growing on both ends of the equation. A possible solution to the growing class of the “working poor” – those who have jobs but still find themselves coming up short each month for the basic necessities of life – is the institution of a living wage.

According to Public Interest Alberta, 21.9% of all working Albertans earn less than $12 per hour . One suggested solution is to raise the minimum wage, but even $12 is not a whole lot when it comes to keeping up with the cost of living resulting from the province’s supposed “boom.”

One of the problems concerning setting a living wage is defining an exact amount. Realistically, this can vary from person to person depending on circumstances. A single mother with three pre-teen children is going to have very different needs than a twenty-five year old bachelor who lives alone.

Another consideration is that certain kinds of jobs have limited potential for both career development and actual monetary value. The career ceiling is very limited for someone who pumps gas or checks out groceries, unless they end up an owner or a manager – certainly not in the majority of cases. Gradual pay increases over time for these sorts of jobs tend to be small because they do not require a lot of skill and training.

However, not everyone can or is supposed to be a doctor, lawyer or executive. This does not mean that other jobs are any less vital to our economy. Many so-called menial jobs ensure that society as we know it functions smoothly. It is the workers, through their labour, who provide the backbone for a quality of life that those in the upper echelons take for granted. Think about this: what would happen if all of the cashiers at Safeway simply decided not to show up for work one day? Or, if the same scenario ensued with any other job that is generally taken for granted?

A theoretical proposal is that society as a whole needs to examine and evaluate what is important in terms of its values. In practical terms, change has to start with each of us, to slowly and gradually create a paradigm shift in our society. On an individual level, this means taking stock of our own priorities, and allowing our lives to be living reflections of what we hold most dear. This may involve becoming less materialistic, or taking a different career path that allows us more time to pursue our passions or spend more time with loved ones.

As well, the average person needs to support workers’ rights. When a group of workers are on strike, don’t cross the picket line. In terms of day to day activities, don’t support corporations with lousy track records when it comes to employee treatment and pay. While low prices might be tempting to anyone on a budget or fixed income, supporting these kinds of businesses is only adding to the problem while lining the pockets of some of the biggest corporations in the world (and the obscenely rich executives who run them). At the very least, make an effort to shop at Canadian-owned companies, as well as ones that utilize the standards of Fair Trade, whereby the goods are certified not to have been produced in sweatshops and where the producers are paid a decent amount for their labour.

Perhaps it is some sort of fair trade regulations we need on a local level. Our quality of life should not have to suffer because of arbitrarily set wage limitations. The term “working poor” needs to be made obsolete.

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer in Edmonton. She also makes art and music. Her e-mail address isstarvingwriter@hotmail.com for a reason.