Minimum wage is not a black and white situation

We’re all just looking to survive, and it’s a fact that both business owners and employees need a reliable income to live.

The topic of minimum wage can elicit a passionate response from both employees and business owners, but it’s not a black and white issue for either side. Both parties have their own financial struggles, with different factors coming into play.

For job seekers, it doesn’t help that the job market hasn’t improved. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta’s unemployment rate has increased to 7.3 per cent, with Edmonton’s unemployment rate at seven per cent. A Global News article published on March 8 stated, “Although the province has 3,800 more jobs than it did last month, the trend factors in the creation of 11,500 public-sector jobs and the loss of 7,000 private-sector positions.”

A common misconception is that those with minimum wage jobs are students or people lacking post-secondary education. While 43 per cent of minimum wage earners are younger than 25, Statistics Canada says 17 per cent are 15 to 64 years old and are “single, lone parents or spouses/partners in single-earner couples”, while 21 per cent are 15 to 64 years old and “spouses/partners in dual-earner couples.”

On Oct. 1, 2018, the minimum wage increased to $15 an hour, turning Alberta’s minimum wage to the highest in Canada from the lowest. But still, in Edmonton the living wage is $16.48 an hour for two adults working full-time to support a family of four. Even if that job is 40 hours a week, other expenses eat up the money. Rent is an average of $1,255 for a two-bedroom apartment. Food is becoming more expensive. This year’s Canada Food Price Report states consumers are expected to pay $411 more for food this year. And of course, not everyone is able to secure full-time hours.  

Finances have a significant impact on our health. StarMetro recently published an article about social health. The author cited a 2013 Canadian Medical Association report, stating that 50 per cent of a population’s health is impacted by the social and economic environment. The more money someone has, the higher the chances of that person being healthy.

Meanwhile, business owners typically paying minimum wage are also struggling. Restaurants Canada states restaurants operate on a narrow margin of profit of 5.4 per cent before taxes. The biggest expenses are labour at 29.7 per cent and the cost of sales at 33.7 per cent. Other factors include rent, repair and maintenance, utilities, advertising, depreciation, and miscellaneous expenses.

The cost of food and transporting food has also increased. Food prices are expected to rise between 1.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent. Don’t forget that climate change has an impact on food shortages and rising prices.

Carbon tax also affects the food service industry. According to Restaurants Canada, “Many food service businesses have large spaces to heat and rely on equipment that runs on natural gas to cook and safely preserve food. A large portion, if not the majority of a restaurant’s energy use goes directly into the food preparation process. Restaurateurs can do very little to reduce energy use that is used to prepare, cook and preserve food to ensure food safety.” Even if restaurant owners aren’t affected by carbon tax directly, they pay anyway if their supplier’s costs increase.

Carbon tax is not perfect, but we also can’t ignore climate change. Ignoring it and going on as we have won’t make it go away.

Looking at both sides, it’s hard to find a win-win solution, but perhaps some ideas can increase those odds.

For businesses, lobby the government to increase funding for startups and introduce more tax breaks. A promising start is the plan for a project called The Public, which would include 13 commercial kitchens and resources like food storage, training, and space. Small food businesses don’t always have the space for a commercial kitchen.

Connect with the community so potential customers know about the business. Take advantage of advertising opportunities, whether it’s through social media, print, radio, television, or simply word of mouth.

If at all possible, pay a living wage. Business expenses are many and significant, but paying employees a fair and equitable wage increases disposable income, thus injecting more money back into the economy.

Think outside the box. Instead of one or two people owning and running a business, consider creating a business with several people. It may be more affordable to purchase a building together and run that business. The mortgage could then be split several ways. And if those people work in different aspects of the business, they’re invested in making it successful.

As for job seekers, the job market has changed. Long gone are the days of working at one job or career, collecting a pension, and retiring. Side gigs have become a reality for many people in order to survive and meet financial goals. According to What Color is My Parachute?, job seekers took a little over a month to find a job before 2008. Now, 17 to 30 per cent of unemployed job seekers in the U.S. take over a year to find a job.

Keep current with expected skills, knowledge, and technology. It’s incredibly difficult to get a job in a preferred career path if you haven’t kept up. Resources like offer plenty of free courses with an Edmonton Public Library card. Polish your resume using resources at Sometimes volunteering strategically to get desired skills can also be helpful. When working, take full advantage of any educational opportunity.

Networking has become important. Experience is necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to attend networking events or simply cultivate a wider social network. It would be nice to be hired on experience and skill alone, but all too often knowing someone is what gets you in the door.

The world is changing, with life becoming more difficult.

Support local businesses. Our area has many local businesses, most of them small businesses, all of whom would appreciate your patronage.

Businesses: employ people so they too can make a decent living. All these people would appreciate being given a chance to lead a comfortable life.

In the end, hopefully we can all thrive, not just survive.

Featured Image: It’s hard to find a win-win situation when both employees and employers have valid struggles. | Pixabay