The killer costs of living

Editors, the Gauntlet

Re: “The hunting,” Aug. 12, 1999

Robert Wright’s article on the cost of living for students in Calgary should raise an outcry in protest to a provincial government that believes the economic system will take care of everyone.

Alberta’s relative wealth implies the existence of a mythical umbrella that protects everyone from financial hardship. Instead, there is little attention to the facts and it is clearly represented by the government’s Learning Minister Lyle Oberg when he states:

“It is expected that the student worked for the four months over the summer (if they had those four months to work), and that the student loan is used in conjunction with those earnings.”

I need to ask when Mr. Oberg last served coffee, waited tables, helped people with sweaty feet try on shoes, partook in a telemarketing campaign, or slung hamburgers?

Last summer, I took a seasonal job in retail to get me through the summer and help me fund my studies. At $7 an hour, 40 hours per week I saved almost nothing. At $7 an hour, I was considerably higher on the pay scale than other students occupying similar jobs.

Accordingly, the Office of Institutional Analysis at U of C reports that the average student age is almost 23 years. Student loan guidelines only require parents to support their children up to the age of 21. This suggests many students face university with only the prospect of summer earnings, part-time work during school and student loans to finance their education.

At $7 an hour my average take home pay, after taxes and UI and CPP contributions, barely came to $1000 per month. Expenses were roughly $300 for rent, 50 dollars for utilities and phone (no cable and conservative use of lights), $200 for food, $100 minimum to service debts already accrued throughout the financially tight school year, and emergencies.

Obviously, my potential ability to contribute to my cost of living while at school vanishes as the summer months pass.

The problem of this savings crux for students has more to do with Alberta’s minimum wage rather than the student loan cost of living limits. Minimum wage in Alberta was $3 an hour in the early 1970s and is only $5.40 an hour now after 25 years of inflation. Rent alone, as noted in Wright’s article, places a one bedroom apartment around $574 per month while student loans can only contribute $305 per month for rent.

In doing the math, I am offended that Oberg could casually suggest that students are capable of contributing much more than they already do to help subsidize their education.

To Oberg, I would say, “We do work hard to pay for our education and we suffer the anxiety of potentially bouncing rent cheques and eating less than we should to be healthy as outlined in the government’s food guide.”

Perhaps the Alberta government should take into consideration that the richness of this province isn’t all-encompassing. The cost of living is disproportionate to earnings and affects more people than just students in Alberta.

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