Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wage Still Too Low! Rent Still Too High!

Canadian politics seem to have been dominated by a few, select issues in the last couple of years. While these social topics get played up by media and others, the basic issues that affect most people get little attention.

Take for example rent and pay. Every person in Toronto, and indeed in World, needs a place to live and a way to pay for it. For too long, working people in Toronto have been faced with the dilemma of having to pay exorbitant rents on low wages.

Since both of these rent and wages are dependant on government policy in Ontario, as the provincial government sets the minimum wages and sets how much rent can be increased by (or can order rents to be frozen, meaning not increased), it is almost astounding that there has been so little mention of these issues in the media or by the mainstream political parties at election time or elsewhere.

However, it isn’t that surprising when realizing how the lack of public spotlight on these issues has lead to making working people poorer. During the early years of the Harris Conservatives, a lot of noise was made (and with justification) about the increases in rents that were taking place. A report by the Canadian Mortgage and
Housing Corporation in 2003 revealed that between 1993 – 2003, rents had increased
41% overall in the GTA. One can certainly assume that this figure is higher, since this report was based on figures voluntarily submitted by landlords!

Similarly, many pointed to the lack of increase to the already too low minimum wage throughout this period, which remained at a measly $6.75/ hr. The Liberals took advantage of the anger around the affect that these issues were having on working people and promised to bring solutions. In reality though, they have continued the policies that people in Ontario voted them to overturn.

The Liberals have refused to institute rent freezes, have cut into social assistance and have not addressed the issue of living wages for many workers and their families.
Minimum wage isn’t only an issue for those who make it, as a low minimum wage depresses the wages of the rest of the population. While an estimated 621 000 people in Canada work on or below a minimum wage, more than 1.2 Million workers in Ontario worked in jobs that paid below the poverty level in 2000.

McGuinty and his cronies argue that their meager increases to the minimum wage, which will be up to $8/hr by the end of 2008, are a solution to this problem. Their math doesn’t add up! Earning $8/hr for 40hrs per week, equals a before-tax total of $320 dollars per week. This would mean that the gross amount of money earned by a worker on minimum wage for a month would be $1280 before taxes.

With huge waiting lists for subsidized housing in the City and with the average cost of a two bedroom apartment at $1027 per month, there are thousands of Toronto families living cheque to cheque. In a 2005 submission to the government, the Vanier Institute of the Family said the minimum wage in now “not even close” to being a living wage, and added that “even two minimum wages in a household will not protect its children from the short-term and long-term consequences of poverty.”

Indeed, taking into account the average cost of a two bedroom apartment and factoring in minimum $524 grocery allowance needed by a family according to Toronto Public Health, a $99.75 MetroPass to commute to work, plus ‘luxuries’ such as clothes and home supplies, a living wage cannot be lower that $14/hr!

Implementing an actual living wage has a positive ripple effect on the economy, as people have more disposable income to spend. Even many economist agree that this is will have a positive effect on the economy. So why is it that there has been so little action on this? Truth is companies have an interest in keeping wages down, and keeping people poor. Having low minimum wages coupled with unemployment means that overall wages can be kept low, and people will still work for them because they need to try and provide for themselves and their families. In short, low minimum wages means more profits for big businesses and the people who own them.

Moreover, it must be said that most politicians either have no idea what the reality of most working people is, or simply don’t care. This is even reflected in the bureaucracies of the state. In a report on poverty, the Chief Statistician of Canada declared that in terms of income, “being significantly worse off than the average does not necessarily mean that one is poor.”

A huge portion of working people, particularly those in cities and immigrants, do not vote and are not the sources of campaign donations for the elections campaigns of those sitting in Queen’s Park or Parliament Hill. With City elections around the corner, and Provincial elections next year, those of us who know this reality need to create movements that will ensure that these issues are front and center.

Rents must be immediately frozen. Minimum wage must be increased to living wage levels of no less than $14/hr in order to actually address to the main problems that working people face every day!