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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2015 > September 2015 > The Small Town Discount

The Small Town Discount

Wednesday 2 September 2015, by Dylan Boyko

I’m from a small town that prides itself on those stereotypical small town values. The people are thrifty and hard working, or at least present as such. They believe in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, if they are to be believed. Ask how much a full-time fast food clerk should make, and suddenly Cousin Merle takes on a near-Victorian air where the insidious nature of classist thinking, gussied up as economic rationale, tilts a discussion of equality in a decidedly unfair direction. How does the question of minimum wage increases affect anyone but those currently earning minimum wage? The economic risks normally presented to the average Canadian fail closer inspection. How can the current state of a minimum wage under the poverty line be validated? Cousin Merle knows a thing or two about work, you see, and has the answers.

Firstly, the intended goals of raising the minimum wage must be established. Pam Frache defines the benefits of an increased wage floor for the poorest of the nation’s workers would not be a singular curative but instead “an essential piece of what should be a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.” The goal then, for less gracious individuals worried about economic stability, is to partially alleviate the larger costs of the welfare state by providing a legitimate living wage.

Cousin Merle immediately speaks out, in elevated diction: Hark, will not a general wage increase ensure the demise of many lower-tier positions? Are we not biting the hand that feeds? Frache quickly debunks Merle’s common refrain, as a recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study determined quite obviously that the stability of low-income positions hinges on larger macroeconomic factors, and not on the baseline wage of the lowest earners. False concern over employment security for the lower classes shields a jealous reality: the protection of social status.

Merle is not convinced – surely, the increase in a minimum wage would cripple the small business owner! Again Merle misses the point. Frache links the pressure of macroeconomic factors with the alternatives to an increased minimum wage (food and housing programs through social assistance) as a continuation of the problem where “taxpayers subsidize businesses that pay poverty level wages” instead of fighting poverty directly. Cousin Merle needs to recognize that the poor single mother does not just work at the local Mom n’ Pop hardware store, but also runs the till at the Tim Horton’s. Even Merle knows Tim does not need more money. Alternatives to a higher minimum wage draw support from benefitting the poorest citizens, all the while drawing conservative ire for the purported – and false – claims of an attack on small business or an expansion of social assistance. The impoverished within society, especially those working full-time under the poverty line, should always come first when ordering economic concerns.

Ah, but Cousin Merle throws out his last, decidedly meager barb: those damn teenagers! What about the part-time workers, who clearly make up the majority of individuals holding minimum wage employment? Why should Jimmy get more money when he lives with his parents? Frache’s statistics, derived from British Columbia, describe nearly the opposite situation where 47% of minimum wage workers are over the age of 25 and 43% work full-time. These numbers also fail to gather the sheer amount of individuals in B.C. working in the grey areas of the economy, with salaries over the $10.25 minimum threshold, but below the $15.00 proposed mandatory minimum. The parable of the teenage wage-earning underclass, Frache states, is simply a myth. Merle’s excuses, or the excuses of any middle class citizen against an increased minimum wage, fail to pass muster. Instead, the desire to further suppress the lower class stems from either stupidity or protectionism of certain cultural status.

My small town is full of people who work incredibly hard. They deserve nothing less than the ability to provide for themselves and their families, and Cousin Merle would agree. Hierarchical organizations of work and working fail our poorest social participants. They work honestly and deserve that often-inadequate pay. How does the question of minimum wage increases affect anyone but those currently earning minimum wage? Because every Canadian above the poverty line owes it to those less fortunate to look out for the neighbor that cannot escape the rut of capitalism and corporate greed. How can the current state of a minimum wage under the poverty line be validated? It cannot. Even Cousin Merle might understand that soon enough.