Poverty sucks which is why the 2 to 3 vote at Guelph’s Corporate Services Committee which rejected a “Living Wage” is so galling.
Let’s do some number crunching.
There are 27 employees at the city of Guelph who earn less than a living wage as calculated by anti poverty groups;
These employees earn 8 cents an hour less than the living wage.
The total cost to bring these employees up to a living wage is $4,930.00 per year to the City.
That translates to .038 cents per person in Guelph for a living wage– but let’s round it up to .5 cents to be on the safe side.
The Living Wage campaign for some is symbolic. For me, it is personal and principled: I grew up in poverty and know how it hurts.
In “the wealthiest country in the world” poverty is still chronic both nationally and locally. It is considered by many to be a contagious disease cured by hard work and a free market – even the great economist Adam Smith disagrees. He knew the limits of a “free market.
For those below the living wage, much of what Guelph residents take for granted – the option of shopping for new clothes instead of browsing used clothing shops or relying upon donations, the option of eating fresh vegetables, the option of substituting whole foods for processed foods does not exist. Hell, for many, over 50 percent of a family’s earnings can and often do go for paying the rent!
For Guelph to support a living wage is an ethical stance. In cold hard cash, it is a penny on our tax bill – actually it is far less. Symbolically it states that our bottom line goes beyond cold hard cash to doing the right thing for the least among us.
For those who live in poverty, who cannot afford new clothes (ie don’t shop in St. Vincent de Paul’s as a choice but shop there out of necessity), who cannot wear the best clothes to a job interview, who do not eat nutritious food, denying a living wage is a slap in the face. Guelph has the highest employment rate in the best country in the world. We can and should do better.
Thanks to Councillor June Hofland for relentlessly promoting and supporting the motion to enact a Living Wage in Guelph. Thanks to the Guelph Downtown Board’s Marty Williams et al for supporting a living wage by advocating for it. Thanks to Councillors James Gordon, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, Bob Bell for being supportive of our efforts.
When we defeated the Living Wage, Guelph’s Corporate Services Committee were “.038 of a penny wise” and a “dollar foolish”. Some would say that’s “looney-tick”. When we could have led by example we chose to lead with parsimony and ideology.
Ignoring poverty or relying upon the free market is not the answer. If it were, we would embrace child labour as a virtue and let the market decide whom it is that is employed, how much s/he is paid and whether health and safety measures matter. Thankfully the days of the workhouse, of Oliver Twist and Charles Dickens are behind us. The duty of City Councillors in a civilized community is to ensure that all benefit from prosperity. It’s not that hard nor that expensive.