Hey Ottawa, workers with two jobs could use a break

If you need two jobs to cover your bills, maybe the government should be a bit less greedy with you around tax season.

It’s no secret that the rise in the cost of living has been hitting Canadian families hard, and we’ve all been looking for ways to save on our expenses to keep them in line with our incomes.

Unfortunately, cutting back on some expenses hasn’t been enough for all our fellow citizens. As a result, the number of Canadians taking on a second job in addition to their main full-time job has increased in recent years.

Today, the number of moonlighting Canadians is estimated to be more than 658,000. That’s equivalent to the population of Brampton, the ninth largest city in the country, according to the latest census.

These are people who have to work a combined total of more than 35 hours per week just to make ends meet. As you might expect, it’s not so much the people earning six figures that are taking on this secondary employment, but rather the folks in or near the bottom and lower-middle income brackets.

Unfortunately, the way things stand the income taxes on their second jobs are hitting them hard. That’s because the way our tax system is set up doesn’t differentiate between primary and secondary employment. It just keeps adding things up and increasing the marginal rate you have to pay.

To illustrate what this means, consider a single Ontarian who earns $35,000 a year in their main employment, but who still needs a second job to make ends meet. The provincial and federal governments will take at least 20.5 cents out of every dollar they earn in that secondary employment.

For the average worker in this situation, their second income brings in a little more than $18,000 according to Statistics Canada. And out of that $18,000, they end up paying more than $3,700 in taxes.

Of course, the exact amount varies by province, but no matter where in the country they live, it’s still a significant amount of money that they could be using for other purposes. But instead of putting it toward the rent, paying for groceries, or paying off credit card debt, they are forced to send it straight into government coffers.

A good way to change that would be for our governments to reset the marginal tax calculations for people who have two jobs, with one of them being full-time.

This would mean restarting the income tax ladder at zero and considering their secondary income in a silo, so that every extra dollar earned wouldn’t be subject to a tax rate of 20 per cent or more.

To understand this policy’s effect, let’s look at our average Ontarian moonlighter earning an annual $35,000 in their main job and $18,000 in their secondary job. Our proposed tax reset would leave them with $2,722 extra in their pockets at the end of the year compared to what they have now.

With the cost of living what it is today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Canadian who would snicker at the idea of a $2,722 bonus. This is even truer among people at the lower to lower-middle end of the income scale.

While this represents a significant sum to each of the 658,000 Canadians living this scenario, it’s also an amount that would barely make a scratch on federal and provincial revenues.

At the federal level, for instance, providing such a tax reset would represent a $981-million drop in revenue. This might seem like a lot, but it’s almost invisible beside the $489 billion the government projects to spend this year.

Looked at another way, the amount is slightly less than the production subsidies Ottawa has pledged to send to one company, battery manufacturer Stellantis, every year for the next decade.

If Ottawa can extend such magnanimity to a single foreign battery manufacturer, surely it can find a way to help 658,000 hard-working Canadians by providing them with a tax reset on their second jobs.

Jason Dean is Associate Researcher at the MEI and the author of “Full-Time Struggle and Two-Job Juggle: A Tax Holiday for Canadians to Fight Rising Costs.” The views reflected in this opinion piece are his own.

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