Rachel Notley’s fight for a living wage
Jason Kenney set off a firestorm over minimum wage when, while questioned about cutting wages for bar staff and young Albertans working in restaurants, the UCP leader spoke about “people of a modest level of human capital.”
It didn’t go over well. Some thought Kenney was targeting people with disabilities. Many were angry about his suggestion that some Albertans are worth more than others. Others said Kenney was effectively telling young people that their expenses weren’t legitimate.
Whatever he intended, Kenney sparked a debate over Alberta’s minimum wage.
When Alberta was booming, previous politicians regularly forgot what it meant to have a regular job. Good times were bad times for Albertans living in poverty, who received little help with rising rents and living expenses.
By the time the last election in 2015, Alberta’s minimum wage had just creeped over $10 an hour. It was the lowest minimum wage in Canada. Alberta also had the highest level of income inequality and the largest gender income gap.
Rachel Notley’s four-year plan raised minimum wage to $15 an hour. Lobbyists and conservative think tanks predicted massive job losses and cutbacks to working hours. Yet Alberta has the highest employment rate in Canada, growing consumer spending and record money spent in restaurants.
Critics often suggest minimum wage earners are teens living at home. But the vast majority (71.2 per cent) are at least 20 years old.
Most minimum wage earners are female (62.5 per cent). Nearly half (45.8 per cent) of minimum wage earners have post-secondary education, and nearly half (48.2 per cent) work that job full-time. Roughly 40 per cent are parents.
A higher minimum wage is good for these workers. But it’s also good for the economy. People making minimum wage put that money right back in the local economy, not into stock portfolios. For every extra dollar earned, an estimated two dollars is spent in the local economy.
What’s at stake?
Whatever Jason Kenney means by “modest levels of human capital,” his focus isn’t on the nearly 300,000 ordinary people in Alberta who make minimum wage. He thinks they should make less.
What Kenney doesn’t realize is that an employee who doesn’t have to worry about making rent is less likely to leave their job. It makes more sense for their employer to invest in training. They are happier and will have higher productivity.
Most importantly, fewer Albertans are living in poverty.
Rachel Notley and her team have set the course for a future that is for all Albertans, not just a select few. There’s no room to turn back and undo our progress.