Calgary Herald: $15 minimum still not a ‘living wage’ in Calgary, anti-poverty advocates say
As of Monday, Alberta’s minimum wage — which has gone up 47 per cent since the NDP took power three years ago — will be the highest in Canada. But activists say the new $15 minimum still doesn’t come close to a “living wage,” meaning many working Calgarians will remain on the knife-edge of poverty.
A living wage, as defined by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is a wage that allows a household to meet basic needs like food, housing, utilities, transportation and clothing. It doesn’t include credit card or loan payments, savings for retirement or a child’s education, costs associated with caring for a disabled or ill family member, or anything beyond minimal recreation, entertainment or holiday costs.
In Calgary, the living wage for 2018 is pegged at $17.70 an hour for a family of four, with two parents working full-time. (The living wage is calculated annually, based on the actual cost of living in a specific community.)
While only 11 per cent of Alberta employees earn minimum wage or less, Franco Savoia — executive director of poverty reduction agency Vibrant Communities Calgary — said a much greater number (one in four in Calgary) fall below the living wage threshold.
“You have people that are living in a continual state of vulnerability, because stuff happens,” Savoia said. “Your car breaks down, your kid needs medication. People are living in a pressure cooker where they never have enough.”
Savoia said he understands the challenge a minimum wage hike presents to businesses, but said not paying employees enough to live on has a cost, too. He said the ripple effects of a low-wage economy end up materializing in the form of a greater need for publicly funded social services, as well as productivity losses caused by employee health problems, higher turnover rates and more.
“As a businessperson, if you’re saying ‘all I can pay is $13.60 an hour,’ what you’re really asking is for all of society to subsidize your business,” he said. “That’s what you’re really doing.”
Calgary Food Bank CEO James McAra said previous minimum wage hikes in Alberta have not done anything to reduce food bank usage in Calgary, in part because the minimum wage still remains too low to lift people out of poverty. He said while he believes the NDP government’s minimum wage policy has started a “good conversation” around the issue of poverty, he said there are other issues that need to be addressed — such as access to prescription drugs and dental care, and the availability of transit, services and schools in neighbourhoods where housing is affordable.
“Changing wages has not demonstrated a change in demand at our food bank, because there are so many other factors that go into it,” McAra said. “Poverty is incredibly complex, and no one brute-force tool is going to suddenly end poverty.”
However, Savoia said raising minimum wage is still a place to start, as there is something fundamentally unjust about an individual who works full-time but must still access social services to get by.
“Is it (the minimum wage increase) the answer to lift people out of poverty? Of course not. But does it move that way? Yes,” Savoia said. “It’s a step. And a step is better than no step.”
On Twitter: @AmandaMsteph
Why $17.70 an hour? Here are the basic needs that go into calculating a “living wage” for a family of 4 in Calgary
|Monthly (2017)||Monthly (2018)||Annually (2017)||Annually (2018)|
|Clothing and Footwear||$156.83||$158.67||$1,881.96||$1,904.05|
|Other (Furnishing, Supplies, etc.)||$295.84||$296.57||$3,550.08||$3,558.84|
|TOTAL FAMILY EXPENSES||$5,564.03||$5,566.41||$66,768.36||$66,796.89|
Source: Vibrant Communities Calgary