ALEC BRUCE: Minimum wage jobs and “dead end” stigma

ALEC BRUCE • Customer opinion

Alec Bruce is an award-winning Halifax-based journalist and author. His next memoir, The Last Car Game, reveals the facts and fictions about alcohol in history, society, and his own life.

Nova Scotia is no stranger to the obtuse nonsense that periodically emerges from the legislature. But if you were worried that we haven’t stocked up on stuff since the August provincial election, you can relax. Tim Houston is at work, but not at minimum wage.

Barely on Thursday, the Progressive Conservative Prime Minister had let slip how extraordinary he found the idea that anyone wanted a job at minimum wage, he revised himself. “In the heat of the moment, I used the wrong word,” he said. “What I wanted to say is [people want] a better job.”

While this demonstrates why it’s impossible to turn back the clock when you already have your feet planted firmly in your mouth, Houston’s gaff is woefully common. But every elected official must know the difference between the intrinsic value of a job and the value judgment we have on it.

A grocery store clerk earns $ 12.95 an hour in Nova Scotia, not because, by some rule of thumb, that’s what the job is worth. She makes that kind of money because after years of thinking, “Well, if the apocalypse comes, at least we can work in a grocery store,” the rest of us decided that was the time. job value.

My wife’s grocery store job is a nice semi-retirement job. She works with dozens of people at the start, middle and end of her career. Their direct deposits are indistinguishable from those which the Prime Minister obtains for, among other things, to be silent in public, except on one important point: they are not decent wages; not even close.

Yet, they make sure food and water are stored and available during pandemic shutdowns. They assist clients in wheelchairs. They help community groups deliver food and clothing donations. They keep their stores clean and safe, and their business owners have the peace of mind that they get more money every night than any of them are likely to see in their lifetime. All for $ 12.95 an hour.

It’s no surprise that up to 15 percent of Canada’s labor force works for minimum wage, or that this percentage has increased over the past three decades. The numbers of people qualified to do the kinds of high-paying jobs that governments and industries say they want have not kept pace with real job opportunities. Meanwhile, the gap – both in depth and breadth – between the rich and the poor has reached levels not seen since the golden age of 19th-century America.

On the flip side, there are still warehouses to stock, scouring floors, underwear to sell, coffee to serve, and beer to display.

When these types of jobs were, in fact, entry-level positions for an upward mobile workforce, we didn’t laugh at them. Being able to say on your resume that you worked as… oh, I don’t know… the “junior Pepsi sports reporter” for a private radio station in Dartmouth for 25 cents above minimum wage was an excellent qualification for advancement. future. We used to think of a job like this as an apprenticeship, if not a stepping stone, into the vast, vast world of work. Now it’s either at the end of the queue or at the grocery store for you!

And that is, of course, the problem with comments like the one from Houston.

We have become so used to equating “minimum wage” with “dead end” that we have judged them and those who fill them as “less”. Either way, minimum wage workers are no longer struggling, hopeful, productive, and helpful members of society who make most of life, pay, serve, and save. They are bad payers.

Of course, people want better jobs. They also want more money for the jobs they are already doing. And if, as Houston seems to suggest, more money is the measure for more respect, then raise the minimum wage to a level that at least comes close to the intrinsic value of the jobs that more and more of us are doing. .

Otherwise, I would not pay the Premier of Nova Scotia a nickel to carry my luggage to the car.

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