She has raised three children while she earned $ 9 per hour

News 12 March, 2018
  • Photo Marie-Ève Dumont
    Denise Merchant has a little more flexibility now that his three children have left home, even if she still holds to her list when she goes to the grocery store.

    Marie-Eve Dumont

    Monday, 12 march, 2018 01:00

    Monday, 12 march, 2018 01:00

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    “During the months that were the hardest-to-round, my boss was giving me a credit on bread, milk, juice, butter, just to finish off the week with the lunch of the children. Especially after the separation, I needed it, ” recalls Denise Merchant, who has raised three children on the minimum wage.

    Ms. Merchant has learned to handle with a limited budget to feed her daughter and her two boys, who are now 26, 23 and 19 years old.

    “A luck that there were family allowances,” sighed the woman, 47-year-old, who did not know how she would be leaving without this social safety net.

    The Journal asked a wealthy family to experience the food as if both parents were on the minimum wage during the month of February. Their story was published Saturday and yesterday.

    Ms. Merchant, she lives every day with this reality. She has worked for 13 years in a convenience store in the Centre-Sud district in Montreal and lives in a low cost housing located nearby.

    “I’ve never had nothing new to me. All the furniture and appliances were donated by family, friends, or found used. The clothes, I found the organization Saint-Vincent-de-Paul “, she says.

    Calculations and coupons

    Ms. Merchant began working in the store a year before separating from her husband, she who previously was a mother and homemaker. After the break, she was left alone to raise her children.

    “For the groceries, you calculated, you “couponnes”. I did and I still do several grocery stores, but I could not go too far, as I was taking the bus to get there and a ride back. It was really worth the expense “, she says.

    Fortunately, his father was a butcher. It has, therefore, provided the family in meat for several years.

    “When he was arrested because he was sick, we saw the difference. My son asked me if we could eat steak, I told him : it’s $ 10 steak my big, three of us, it has been 30 $. We will take the pound of ground beef to the place, ” laments Ms. Merchant.

    “We used to eat poorly “

    Ms. Merchant was earning about $ 9 per hour when she started the store, or about $ 1.40 for more than the minimum wage of the time.

    This one however, has caught up quickly. The only increases that it has had since that time are those granted by the government through the years.

    Today, she earns 12,15 $ as the assistant manager while the minimum wage will increase to $ 12 from next may (it should, however, be an increase also).

    Ms. Merchant was pleased to have still managed to put food on the table, and to have been able to ensure that everyone ate to his hunger. She can’t say much about the quality of what she served.

    “You ate poorly for nutrients. Potatoes regular chips, it’s $ 1.99 and it’s wad. With a little sauce and grated cheese, you just make a poutine, if you put the spaghetti sauce, it makes another meal “, and cites it as an example.


    The packages of chicken nuggets and big bags of coleslaw $ 10 in Super C filled his freezer, and the big packages of ground beef in family size, which allowed him to make the spaghetti sauce, which was also made into lasagna. The sole frozen bag was the only fish available.

    With its precarious financial situation, she is in debt over the years.

    “My credit card is loadée to $ 14,000, even today, predominantly in the food. I would buy myself a little luxury from time to time, a perfume, a jacket. One time need that you may live, you can’t snatch all the time, ” sighed she.

    Now that her children are grown, Ms. Merchant studied accounting, having completed her secondary 5 in three years.

    “This was not possible when the children were young because I could not reduce my hours of work to go to the school, but it is the same ones who have pushed me to do so. I did my internship final in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, I wanted to give back “, she says.

    Tips to save on food

    “I don’t buy almost nothing full price. I accumulates during the special, like this week, I took two jars of peanut butter and I put them in reserve. “

    “I look at the circulars and I’m making a list before you go with the special of two grocery stores close to us. I also oversee Pharmaprix, which is big discounts on weekends only, on basic products such as eggs. “

    “I do my grocery shopping on Wednesday, the last day of the specials of the week like that I already know what will be on special the following week. I can know if it is worth it or if I will have a better discount next week. “

    “I often weigh the fruits and vegetables to compare whether it is more advantageous to take peppers already packed or not. “

    “I freeze a lot of fruit and vegetables when this is not expensive in the summer. I buy a big casseau of strawberries, raspberries. I do this also with the green beans and peas, I filled the freezer and I spend the winter. “

    “I have also long been part of community gardens. It was the pleasure of grow your own stuff and I didn’t need to buy them. “

    Poor, even working at minimum wage

    Photo Ben Pelosse

    The contents of the pantry of the family Lalonde-Paquin has been confiscated prior to the eve of the start of the experiment.

    It is not normal that a person who works full-time has also little means, to denounce organizations of defense of the minimum wage to $ 15 per hour.

    “People are told that if they don’t want to be poor they have to go to work, but the problem is that there are workers who are poor “, denounces Philippe Hurteau, researcher at the Institute of research and socio-economic information (IRIS).

    The family Lalonde-Paquin, who has spent a month to fend with $ 210 per week for food, has found it very difficult to the stress caused by the intensive planning of the purchases and the limited budget.

    Income unequal

    “It is always necessary to make the inventory management, predict what you will need, there is no room for error in the decision of purchase or preparation. Everything is counted, ” says the father Denis Paquin.

    “We have no idea at what point it is a luxury of not asking questions. All the mental space that it offers to be able to juggle his resources. [The people at the minimum wage] may not afford any gap, it takes a lot of organization, a control of his desires and his wishes ” insists Virginie Larivière, a spokesperson and organizer policy the Collective for a Quebec without poverty.

    The couple also had an “advantage” since he could count on the equivalent of two salaries to full-time. Everyone also knew about her work schedule in advance since both of them work in education, which allowed them to better plan the meal.

    “For a lot of people who are on the minimum wage, the earnings are very uneven. They are at the mercy of the number of hours available. They have almost no choice but to have a cell phone to stay connected if they are called to return. They are always in urgency and do not have the means to say no. They often have more than one job, ” explains Diane Gagné, a professor-researcher at the research Group interuniversity and interdisciplinary on employment, poverty and social protection.

    The people who live on the minimum wage may also experience a form of social isolation, what we tend to forget, reports Ms. Larivière.

    Goal : eat better

    “There is a certain social exclusion due to the fact that you don’t have the means to participate in what is happening. A mother in the minimum wage can’t buy the shoes last cry, to have root canal treatment or buy the large piece of beef for dinner “, and cites it as an example.

    This is why a coalition of organization asks for a minimum wage to $ 15, but also 10 days of paid leave per year for illness or family responsibilities, and the right to know his or her schedule to five days in advance.

    “When you ask people at the minimum wage, what they would do if they had more income, they answer that they would eat better : fruits and vegetables, meat, cheese. It is so primary as well as needs that are not met. It is a failure of the social contract, you’re still hungry even if you have a job, ” laments Ms. Larivière.

    Reduce poverty without raising the minimum wage ?

    The government should promote other social measures to eradicate poverty rather than increasing the minimum wage, consider the small businesses.

    “We are not against increases in the minimum wage. We are concerned about is when the increases are very significant in a short time, ” said Martine Hébert, senior vice-president and national spokesperson for the canadian Federation of independent business (CFIB).

    The 6.7% increase expected on the 1st of may is a big bite to swallow for the small business because every penny more to be granted to the minimum wage creates a “domino effect” on other wages, ” says Ms. Hébert.

    Weight on the companies

    “These increases are too fast and thus kill jobs for those same workers the minimum wage. We saw it with the future increase in the wage to $ 15 in Ontario. Businesses begin to reduce their hiring plan, they are delaying expansion projects or reduce the hours worked of these employees, ” lists Ms. Hébert.

    The fact of concentrating only on the salary puts all the responsibility on the shoulders of the companies, which are 73 % have less than 10 employees.

    The government to act

    In the restoration, for example, 80 % of restaurants are independent and employ 11 employees on average. The average annual turnover is 600 000 $ for 3 % profit margin.

    “It therefore remains only 20 000 $ for the conservator, therefore, it has not a lot of leeway and there is a limit that we may increase the price,” insists François Meunier, vice-president of public and governmental affairs for the Association des restaurateurs du Québec.

    The CFIB believes, therefore, that it is the responsibility of the government to put in place social measures to help workers better get out of it.

    “There has been interest as a society to ensure that low-income people who have a family and who are at minimum wage have a decent income. In the income, it’s not just the salary. It is the government that collects taxes and fees, it is up to him to make sure that there are tax credits, bonuses at work, tax measures, to have an income more than acceptable. So we can come and fix it without hurting the economy and without hurting the jobs of these people, ” says Ms. Hébert.