Red Deer has the second highest rate of low-wage earners in Alberta’s seven major communities.
In Red Deer, 27.2 per cent of the 47,000 people employed as of March 31 earned less than $15 an hour according to Statistics Canada.
Almost 69 per cent of them earned less than $13 an hour. Provincially, 23.8 per cent of workers, or one in four workers, earned less than $15 an hour and 16 per cent of them made less than $13.
The majority of low-wage earners in Red Deer were women at 59.4 per cent, close to the provincial average of 60.8 per cent.
The statistics released by Public Interest Alberta and the Alberta College of Social Workers looked at Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Medicine Hat had the highest rate of low-wager earners at 33.7 per cent. Wood Buffalo had the lowest rate at 16.8 per cent.
PIA executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon said not all of those earning less than $15 a hour are living in poverty if they happen to have a spouse who earns a lot more.
But the vast majority of low-wage earners — 78 per cent across the province — are in their prime earning years.
“Everybody talks about the average wage being very strong, but what people looking at policy tend not to do is look at what’s happening for folks who are at the bottom 10 or 20 per cent of wage earners,” Moore-Kilgannon said on Wednesday.
“It’s very important that we understand people living in poverty — many, many of them — are working very hard. They’re just working for poverty wages,” Moore-Kilgannon said.
During the provincial election, Premier Alison Redford promised a five-year strategy to eliminate child poverty and recently Minister of Human Services Dave Hancock launched public consultation on social policy framework.
“As they develop this new social policy framework, it’s so important that Albertans get involved, tell their stories, to make sure this isn’t just nice, political rhetoric that helped the premier get elected.
“What a great goal to eliminate child poverty, and if there’s any part of the world that can do that it’s here in Alberta.”
There are many reasons for poverty so eliminating it has to be a multi-pronged approach, for example, more funding for people to attend post-secondary and child care, Moore-Kilgannon said.
Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling said traditionally seniors were most likely living in poverty.
“We’re now looking at young families in poverty, typically that’s a single parent, mother-only family. The father is no where to be seen and is very often not providing the support mandated,” Flewwelling said.
There’s also the rapid growth and urbanization of the aboriginal population, he said.
“Those are two huge tsunamis that are coming at us that people don’t seem to have a grasp on. Sixty-five per cent of the aboriginal population is below 15 years of age,” Flewwelling said.
Red Deer is known for its work on affordable housing and the city can indirectly impact employment by making it a friendly place for business. But the disparity in income continues, he said.
“While there is a fairly wealthy and well-heeled population in Red Deer, there is a soft underbelly of people who have difficulties making ends meet.”
For more information on low-wage earners go to www.pialberta.org.