Category Archives: Politics

Return of the working poor – Pt. 1

As the cost of living outstrips the average income available to people wanting to complete post secondary education, we find ourselves poised on the brink of precipitous descent into a reincarnation of Victorian England. It seems as if all the domestic news these days is hinting at this decline: housing prices rise, unions are being attacked, healthcare is being privatized, education is being privatized, public education is being degraded, democracy is being compromised, privacy is being eroded, and the Internet, the last holdout of free access to information, is under threat.

“A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that since 1990, average tuition and compulsory fees for undergraduates have risen by 6.2% annually — three times the rate of inflation.”1

All things considered, it seems rather trivial to be concerned with whether or not the Millennial generation is spoiled, lazy, entitled, and all too eager to spend their lives in the luxury and comfort of their parents’ home…

But then again, how is it even possible that a group  so large and diverse has collectively decided to be lazy? Why are we being arbitrarily convicted and condemned as unwilling to support ourselves? I believe that the disparagement of Millennials is a symptom of a shift toward the establishment of a class of working  poor.

The Victorian class divide was maintained by creating an economic climate that ensured that an individual had to spend all their time working in order to survive. Leaving them no energy or time to rebel or educate themselves. As the cost of education rises, it becomes more and more the domain of the upper class. Only those children whose parents have enough extra money to put them through university are able to afford it. The rest must take out student loans which, depending on the discipline, can be massive. This means that we are coming into the post-scholastic world deep in debt. If we are lucky and find a well paying job in our field right out of the gate, this is not such a big problem. However, this is not the case for everyone.

“60% of undergraduate students go into the working world with an average debt of $27,000.”2

There are three areas that directly affect this shift: The cost of living, the cost of education, and the availability and quality of work. I want to start with housing because the accusation that we Millennials are lazy and unmotivated is often supported by the fact that we are choosing not to move out from our parents’ homes.

The average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Toronto is currently $1,400. A minimum wage job, as of June 1st 2014, will pay $11 per hour. With the 20.5% income tax (Combined federal and provincial tax), I would have to work a 40 hour week just to make enough pay my rent. Let’s say I move into a two bedroom with a roommate, reducing my rent to $990. I now have enough to cover my grocery expenses, $250 per month, and cleaning supplies/toiletries, approx $15 per month. This leaves me with $145 for internet, phone, transportation, and going out.

Remember, this is based on a 40 hour work week. Evidently, it becomes unsustainable once I start attending school. Now, any student worth their salt would balk at rent like that. I pay $700 per month for a room in a three bedroom basement apartment. I have also managed to keep monthly grocery costs down to $200. I pay $30 for internet and $62 for my phone. Including transportation, I have an overhead of about $1,050 per month (I walk most places). Leaving me with $350 of discretionary spending.

Even if I limit myself to $100 per month of social expenses, a rather conservative estimate ( 4 $3.50 cappuccinos, 2 $20 drinking sessions, 2 $20 meals),  I only have $250 I can save per month toward school.

In light of this reality, staying at home while attending school begins to take on the air of noble sacrifice. If nothing else changes, that same job now allows me to save up $950 per month. Once school starts I only need to work 14 hours per week to cover my living expenses.

It is true that  housing will not be the same everywhere but the Canadian average still sits at around $900.  leaving it well above easily affordable on a minimum wage job. Many students do not have a university in their hometown and, if they do, it may not offer the training they require. Even if it does, by staying in their hometown students are often opting out of attending a school that offers a much higher calibre of education. Again, staying home is a sacrifice.

If it is possible for a student to stay at home while they go to school, they should choose to do so. They should of course contribute to the household as they would in any other cohabitation, but they should not burden themselves with rent if it can be avoided. This is perhaps the smartest decision one can make when budgeting.

Some might suggest that, if post-secondary education would be such a burden, we consider the option of just diving straight into the workforce. However, this is not as viable an option as perhaps it was. In addition to the fact that there are few jobs with potential for advancement that do not require a degree of some kind, the competition for them still includes those who have them. Overall, it has become almost essential for people who want to build a career and a family to obtain a degree, especially when degrees make a huge difference in projected income. in 2010, the average difference in income for 15-34 year olds with a High school diploma and those with a bachelors degree was around $13,000 per year.

“Half of youth from families with incomes in the top 25 percentile attend university by age 19, compared to less than a third for those from families in the bottom quartile.”3

This leads me back to my opening point: there is a shift toward re-establishing the class of the working poor. The people at the bottom of the economic ladder are being prohibited higher education by the increased cost of tuition and housing, thereby being forced into jobs that provide enough to survive, but not enough to advance. As tuition keeps increasing and the income gap expands, more people will find themselves slipping off that bottom rung.

To be continued…

  Notes 1, 2, 3. NatPost, Get ready for $10K tuition: Canadian university fees rising faster than incomes and inflation, report says

Works Referenced:

Photo source:
Photographer: Martin Wessely