Courier editorials: When I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But I’m also right

Last week, I talked about the pathetic minimum wage increase of $0.05 per hour that came into effect in New Brunswick on April 1. April Fool’s Day, indeed.

And in my discussion, I sited a speech given by Saint Croix MLA Kathy Bockus in the New Brunswick legislature prior to April 1, commending the province on increasing the wages of “human services” sector workers.

In my editorial, I linked Bockus’ speech to the minimum wage increase incorrectly. What Bockus was referring to was a $12.4 million investment by the government to increase specifically the wages of those who work in special care homes, community residences, family support workers, home support workers, and attendant care workers.

She wasn’t discussing the minimum wage increase, but rather the increases referenced above, so my connection was incorrect. The error was absolutely mine. I stand corrected.

That being acknowledged, the point of last week’s editorial, and the crux of what I wrote remains accurate. When Bockus gave her speech about the wage increases (we’ll get to those) the legislature broke out into celebratory applause of self-adulation. Aren’t they wonderful, good people to make such a thing happen.

Bockus herself, in the speech she has provided for me, stated “Investing $12.4 million to fund wage increases for 10,000 workers will help address significant challenges with recruitment and retention of these important workers.”

I didn’t agree with her statement last week, when I made incorrect connections, and acknowledging where I went wrong, my opinion remains unchanged.

Has our government invested in increasing the wages of those who do these absolutely crucial jobs? They certainly have. Should they feel they deserve applause for the increases they created? No, I believe they should not.

The numbers I will now use were provided by Bockus (they are from a government press release, she did not create them), and are presumably sourced by the government. I would normally attempt to verify the numbers, but time doesn’t allow for that today. The good news is, the numbers as presented will illustrate my point perfectly, so it really doesn’t matter.

The numbers, listed in a press release supplied by Bockus, which can also be found on the GNB website, show increases as follows:

• Home Support – an increase of 20 cents per hour, for an average wage of $15.50 per hour ($2.5 million investment).

• Special Care Homes – an increase of 50 cents per hour, for an average wage of $15.50 per hour ($4.9 million investment).

• Community Residences – an increase of 75 cents per hour, for an average wage of $16.80 per hour ($2.7 million investment).

• Family Support – an increase of $1.30 per hour, for an average wage of $ 16.80 per hour ($1.2 million investment).

• Attendant Care – an increase of $1.30 per hour, for an average wage of $16.80 per hour ($1.1 million investment).

So, based on these numbers, lets do something I hate. Math.

We’ll start with Home Support workers, who will see an increase of 20 cents per hour. At the previous averaged rate of $15.30 per hour, they were bringing home, before taxes for an incredibly demanding job, $31,824 annually. At the $15.50 hourly rate, before taxes, the annual income translates to $32,240. That’s an annual increase of $416, or an average of $34.67 per month. I doubt Tahitian vacations will abound.

Even if we shift to the bigger increases of Family Support and Attendant Care workers, who are seeing an increase of $1.30 per hour, making their average wage shift from $15.50 per hour to $16.80. Based on a 40 hour work week, that means they are seeing a change from $$32,240 annually before taxes to $34,944, a difference of $2,704, or $225.33 per month. And I realize an increase of $250 per month (before taxes) sounds like a good thing, but after taxes? It’s an additional $158 per month, and still equates to those who work in this sector being unpaid, and undervalued.

Now consider the increased costs of food, petrol, home heating fuel, power…your additional $158 doesn’t cover it.

Bockus contends this increase will help attract (through recruitment) and retain workers in this sector, but I will point to the fact that when I searched Indeed, I didn’t find the “average” wages shown above (the average was lower), and I also discovered the average wage (according to job listings and Indeed) is lower in New Brunswick than Nova Scotia, Ontario, and other provinces who have lower income tax rates, lower power rates, and often, lower property tax rates.

So, just to appease everyone I will reiterate; last week, did I incorrectly associate Bockus’ comments with the $0.05 minimum wage increase which took effect April 1? Yes I did. I was wrong. Bockus speech addressed an altogether separate wage increase, which took effect that same day.

Do I think Bockus is earnest in her belief these increased wages will help? Probably, but I think she’s simply mistaken.

Taken as a whole, these increases of below average income to still below average income for jobs that are quintessentially important remains what I called it last week. Paltry.

Last week I said the government needs to do better. I stand by that statement.

Krisi Marples