Living on minimum wage…

I have never had a minimum wage job.  I have been very fortunate that way.  Even when I was working in my mid to late teens I was very fortunate that after my mother had enrolled me in a keypunch/data entry operator course one summer (I had actually taken a babysitter course – unheard of back then – at my high school during the previous school year in order to start working part-time doing said activity … yeah right, this was of absolutely no interest to me thank you very much), I easily landed jobs with temporary employment agencies and I was making $10/hour AND this was in the late 1970s/early 1980s.  I do remember one client I ended up working for was the royal bank in a secure floor where I was inputing visa credit card statement details.

I am still shocked to remember this since minimum wage NOW is not much more than $10/hour.  I didn’t realize how good my summer income was, certainly not the average teenager wage.  I was lucky that I didn’t have to go work at MacDs or other fast food joints.  I have actually never really worked in any hospitality industry.  I never wanted to and I was able to not have to. I do admire folks who do for many reasons, not least of which is that you are going to be dealing with great and not so great (to put it politely) customers. And you often rely on tips since the wage is too low to live on – so don’t forget to tip please!

My family is very fortunate that we don’t carry a mortgage or pay rent, owning our land outright rather than the bank owning it which is really the situation of most home owners.  It is because of this that we can live let alone survive on a minimum wage job, as it can cover the monthly bills, e.g. food, utilities, gas in the car. Major expenses would be another matter, e.g. needing a major car repair and/or needing to buy a replacement vehicle as we always have old cars that last for 2-4 years. I mention this because we live nowhere near public transit or even in a small town, so we need to drive any/everywhere.  We could bicycle to some communities but this would take time, and I am not a bicycle fan if there is wind or hills that need to be faced, both of which we would have. Recently, however, I am considering the idea of either an electric or gas powered bicycle, using one of our existing bikes and installing the engine in the latter case.  Mr.C5 has been eyeing this as well so this might actually happen.  This way I could actually take the TransCanada trail to get to work – how neat would that be?

I used to get my students to work in groups doing an exercise in class where they were to figure out what would be the living expenses for a single person, for a couple without and with kids, assuming living in an urban area with or without public transit access, but also considering what might be added or lessened expenses if living in a rural setting.  So listing all monthly expenses: housing (rent, no mortgage for those with minimum wage income), food, utilities, telecommunications, car expenses/public transit, occasional seasonal clothing, sundries e.g. toiletries, some occasional entertainment. Then you calculate what would be the gross and net income with a 40 hour work week at minimum wage of said province. It was quickly apparent that unless one lived a certain type of lifestyle you could not survive on said income.

Consider the following:

You cannot live on your own. You would have to rent and live in shared accommodation, so a shared house or apartment having roomates/housemates.  I think in your 20s this is no biggy.

You do not own a car. But what if you lived in suburbia and you needed a vehicle to get to your work?  Well there are stories of folks walking 1-2 hours one way just to get to the job.

Your entertainment would be sitting at home with perhaps formerly a vhs/dvd movie rental, never going to a theatre or a bar for a drink or to a restaurant for a nice meal.

Forget about any kind of insurance, even if only home contents, should your apartment go up in smoke or suffer some other natural disaster like a hurricane or flooding.

As for food, you would need to try to buy your groceries when stuff was on sale but of course there are staples one needs regularly. Consider pop is much cheaper than much healthier milk. White nutritionally deficient bread (wonderbread) is way cheaper than healthier whole wheat varieties.

Sidenote: I used to show a documentary to my students about socio-economic status (SES) in the U.S., not social class (SC). This latter concept is often used incorrectly as it was in the documentary, to denote differences in income, assets, education & similar but this is SES; SC, the term from Karl Marx, is whether you are i) an owner of means of production, e.g. having property, machinery, what would be called the capital in order to engage in business thus you would be part of the bourgeoisie (aka the capitalists) (note: owning a home doesn’t count especially when the bank actually owns the place more than you do), or ii) you are the one who must sell their labour to the owner of capital in order to garner a livelihood so you are part of the proletariat (aka working class).  One segment of the documentary  has this sweet elderly woman in the bread aisle at a grocery store chain. She would scrunch up a piece of this ‘wonderbread’ and it would form a tight ball as it was mainly composed of air & starch, and she would just say ‘yuck’!  I had never thought about how bread is such a representation of socio-economic status.  The higher you go up the scale, the more you will like different, more expensive and usually healthier varieties, e.g. multigrain or sourdough artisan breads. Talk about a simple way to exemplify differences in socio-economic status. Simple yes but also representative of an issue that can be deeply emotionally ladden and divisive.

They always say you should not be paying more than 1/3 of your income on housing, but today so many are paying closer to or more than 1/2 of their wages on shelter.  The cost of food has been greatly reduced in the last few decades despite so many folks complaining about the cost of food (as a farmer, I know food is way too cheap, or at least what they call food in the grocery stores, you know the processed junk), to where it is now less than 10% of your monthly expenses when it used to be closer to 20% years ago. And then the other biggie is transportation; even public transit is not as affordable as it once was but it sure beats owning a car.

If you are one of those who complains about those so called ‘welfare cheats’ then I would encourage you to do the calculations.  Perhaps if we focused more on those who abuse the system who are predominately the capitalist class, then we might address the staggering inequalities in socio-economic status and social class. The system benefits those with wealth.  Simply consider who are making the laws and regulations, e.g. tax laws.  It is the capitalist class or those who do their bidding.  We need to go after the robber barons (historically it was a noble who robbed travelers passing through his lands, more recently it is a ruthlessly powerful U.S. capitalist or industrialist of the late 19th century considered to have become wealthy by exploiting natural resources, corrupting legislators, or other unethical means – sound familiar?!?!)

I will end with the following quote which I think is so utterly important during these times of attacking marginalized peoples – take you pick: women, children, Indigenous Peoples, people of colour, people with disabilities, refugees, immigrants, LGBTQ, the elderly, people of lower socioeconomic status, the working class.

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people, Martin Luther King Jr.


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