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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Minimum wage, Living wage, Assured Basic Income, and the shift to Part-time work

The year has started with a flurry of reports looking at how to best provide support to those that are financially challenged.

It is well acknowledged that an single adult leading a family working full time at minimum wage remains under the poverty line.  However, at that point there are differences of opinion about what poverty advocates should speak up for.

Two pieces worth reviewing, first arguments in Healthy debates January 14, following within days by critiques of the living wage by The Fraser Institute.  Needless to say with opposite conclusions on the value of approaches to increasing economic wellbeing for families and individuals. 

Minimum wage being a legislated lowest denominator for hourly rates.  The Living wage being a construct that speaks to the minimum salary for a full time employee to eke out a living when leading a family.  Neither has consistent methodology.  Both assume full time employment. The living wage was based on conversion of annual costs to an hourly rate.

Concurrently, Statistics Canada released December employment survey showing that full time jobs decreased while overall parttime employment led to a net increase in jobs.  Hidden in the report, participation rate decreased  to just under 2/3rds, those unable to find employment who do not qualify for employment insurance for having never worked, worked insufficient number of weeks, expired EI benefits without finding employment are excluded from unemployment statistics that suggest unemployment rates of just 7.2%

Herein lies the major issue.   Poverty advocates are targeting minimum hours levels of income.  The labour market continues a slide away from full time employment with benefits, to part time or  temporary positions with limited benefits. Simple math, annual income is a function of both hourly rate and number of hours worked.   Put together leads to a resurgence in the concept of the assured (guaranteed) basic income, or what is actually needed annually to survive. 

Few individuals wish to be dependent on social programs.   Rather than blame a minority, its time to blame the system that purposefully holds individuals in economic slavery.  Forcing many to multiple part time jobs and working in excess of accepted working hour standards for employment.  Fueled in the debate by ultra-right wing thoughtless tanks like the Fraser institute.

Before believing that there is a simple solution, pay equity between genders in Canada and most developing countries remains unachieved despite government commitments.  

So what would it take? At least the following fundamental structural changes:

1.       A societal commitment to social wellbeing
2.       A social commitment to reducing inequities
3.       Employment efforts that reinstate full time positions with employee flexibility
4.       Wage and benefit standards

Perhaps more than ever, labour organizations need to speak out – however with stronger unions for professions typified by regular hours, fulltime employee and good benefits, the core values of the labour movement has now been undermined from within and those needing a voice are no longer represented. 

In the meantime, much rhetoric is lost into the air by advocates using differing terms, focusing on activities with marginal benefit, and counterattacked by those who believe the solution to poverty is through increasing profits amongst the richest 1%. 


  1. "ultra-right wing thoughtless tanks" - catchy, but I'll try not to use that during my CaRMS interviews :)

    Great article, as always.

  2. Good advise although many of your interviewees would likely share the opinion. "Think tanks should be willing to consider a diversity of opinions objectively, not impose predestined ideology - hence the thoughtless comment. The Fraser Institute is capable of good work, but undermines its own credibility by poorly researched and highly opinionated pieces dressed up to look as legitimate and interspersed with better prepared materials..