Monday, September 11, 2006

The Best and Worst of Humanity

Five years after, the images of planes flying into buildings still seem like they could only be cartoons, something visually not real, something only in a movie scene. The visual shock of what happened still resonates with us emotionally. Amidst the senseless and incomprehensible tradegy of 9-11, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians responded to the sudden challenge to assist about 15,000 unexpected stranded airline travellers. Mostly American, they were scared, shocked, weary, and needed the basic necessities of life and somewhere safe to rest. Planes landed at Goose Bay, Gander, Stephenville, and St. John's. People in these and surrounding towns and communities, came to their rescue by offering food, shelter and communications to contact loved ones far away.

While the events of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 showed the world the depth of hate that humanity can sink to, the acts of kindness from the people of this province showed the best that humanity has to offer.

People in small communities, towns, and cities who helped comfort the stranded guests have alot to be proud of. Businesses gave supplies, everything from foods, toothpaste, soap, blankets, etc., community and church groups, medical staff, social workers, crisis counsellors, government and university employees volunteered to help. Performers entertained, people brought passengers' prescriptions to be filled. Their generousity not only was immediately helpful, but it provided hope for people who were witnessing hatred against them. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians responded in a way that the world needed to see more of. Looking back, we can feel proud of not only how we served others, but how it inadvertently reinforced a public image of a kind and caring people.

Around 7,000 passengers found refuge in Central Newfoundland, about 1000 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, over 1000 at Stephenville, and almost 5,000 in St. John's. One of the buildings used to house the stranded was the old Thompson Student Centre of MUN campus. Hundreds of Memorial University's staff, including myself, volunteered to set people up with pillows, places to sleep, food and drink. It was such an unusual sight to see hundreds of bewildered people on campus, but it was also pleasing to know that our province was helping to meet their needs during the tragic but historic events of September 11. Newfoundland & Labrador played a large role in securing American and international travellers, and a big role in making Canadians proud.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Minimum Wages and Old Age Pensions

It is good to hear groups pressure government to raise the minimum wage. It is understandable that there is some apprehension among businesses about Reg Anstey's call for a further increase, since it will be a bit too much of an expense for some businesses. A St. John's Board of Trade representative said as much in a local media interview. However, that is not the whole picture by any means.

According to the BC Small Business Quarterly,
the effects of changes to the minimum wage tend to be exaggerated by both detractors and supporters. There are many factors that must be considered in determining the effect of a minimum wage increase, including the size of the wage bump, the business cycle, the kind of tax and benefit systems in place, and the labour supply, just to name some.
According to an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) report based on a 1998 study of minimum wage changes in nine countries,
a 10% increase in the minimum wage is associated with a 1.5 to 3% decline in teenage employment The evidence also
shows that hikes in the minimum, on their own, can explain only a small fraction of the large falls in teenage employment rates observed over the past two decades in almost all countries. The cross-country evidence suggests that the minimum wage has no significant impact on overall employment... So it may be misleading to suggest that a raise in a minimum wage will necessarily lead to widespread job loss.
Certainly not all business is against the idea of raising minimum wage. From a U.S. site called Responsible Wealth, business leaders support a higher minimum wage. Here's one quote:
"The economy has been growing at a rapid rate, but the buying power of the minimum wage has contintued to decrease. It's time for businesses to step up to the plate and take some responsiblity. How can I expect an employee to have any dedication to this company if I do not treat all employees with respect by paying them a living wage?"
-Michele McGeoy, RH Solutions

In any case businesses in general may benefit because people could have more spending power, not to mention happier employees. It would be a boost for peoples' self esteem, motivation, and possibly their desire to perform good or better. Compliments on the job are wonderful incentive for work dedication, but a raise is a great positive incentive also.

There is a 25 ¢ raise coming in the new year, but that will make it only $ 7.00 / hour. That amounts to $14,560 a year. It's a pretty low amount to live on. That's more, perhaps in many cases, than the amount seniors 65 and over get from the Old Age Security (OAS) program each year. While seniors get a consumer price index increase four times a year, to help meet the cost of living increases, it is still a very low amount. Considering that their work lives have concluded and that means no chance of raises in their income, it seems fair to give them an actual raise, so that they may be ahead of the inflation rates. Those still in the work force often have opportunities to earn more money, by their experience, time on the job, and through education and skill development. In March of this year, the average Old Age Security Pension $460.92 (a month), and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for a single senior was $408.66 (a month).

Not all seniors live on the poverty line bracket, some may have other pensions and incomes. But for those on a low income, perhaps a start would be to either significantly decrease the income tax rate or get rid of the tax on OAS. As baby boomers continue to make the number of pensioners greater each year, this group could eventually compose one third of the population. They will have a huge impact on the economy. I don't imagine businesses would object to pensioners having more money in their pockets. That's not my reason, rather more out of respect for our seniors. When illness and health starts to be more of a consideration for them, it impacts on their individual freedoms. It would be nice to see that freedom expanded by increasing old age security rates, or cutting taxes, so that they have more income to do what they like with in their golden years.