Red Deerians who make $15 an hour – the minimum wage in Alberta – are earning less than what’s needed to live in the city.
According to a recent report by Alberta Living Wage Network, the living wage in Red Deer is $17.15 an hour.
Franco Savoia, chair of Alberta Living Wage Network Council, said a living wage may be more attainable for Red Deer (compared to other Alberta communities), but the gap between the living and minimum wage is still equal to about $80 a week.
“It’s not small. When you’re down at this level, every dollar makes a difference,” Savoia said.
The report explains a living wage is the hourly rate of pay needed to meet basic needs in the community where people live once government transfers have been added, and taxes have been subtracted. The 2021 numbers in the report assume people are working full-time hours and includes more than just the basics of food, clothing and shelter. They also take into account unexpected costs, small investments in education, and childcare.
According to the report, the gap between minimum wage and living wage is actually smaller in central Alberta, compared to other communities in the province. Rocky Mountain House has the living wage at $18.05. Canmore has the highest living wage at $37.40, followed by Fort McMurray at $27.35, Cochrane at $22.60, Drumheller at $19.70, Lethbridge at $19, Calgary at $18.60, Chestermere at $18.60, Edmonton at $18.10, Stony Plain at $17.20, and Strathcona County at $16.80.
Byron Bradley, The Mustard Seed Red Deer managing director for Central Alberta, said more new faces are looking to the charity for help.
“We are seeing more and more people show up at our doors looking for hampers, more and more people coming to our meals that aren’t necessarily experiencing homelessness, but definitely affected by poverty, maybe home insecurity, close to losing their home,” Bradley said.
He said inflation at the grocery store is pretty astounding and the wait list for affordable housing is long.
Mustard Seed is working on an affordable housing plan.
“Red Deer really lacks the appropriate and dignified housing. That’s something the Mustard Seed is very concerned about and talking about daily,” Bradley said.
Brad LaFortune, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said living wage could be an issue in the next provincial election.
“I think more regular Albertans are struggling. Part of that is COVID, but there’s a whole host of issues from housing affordability, rising food costs, job security, that are making people think a lot about income security for now, and retirement security for the future,” LaFortune said.
Public Interest Alberta would like to see a living wage reflected in provincial policy and employment standards.
“No matter how you slice it, the minimum wage doesn’t cut it in the vast majority of places in the province. Something needs to be done.”
Alberta Living Wage Network is a network of community organizations and municipalities with the goal of advancing a coordinated living wage movement in Alberta.
Savoia said the living wage movement is about spotlighting employers who provide a living wage and getting the conversation going in communities.
“Can we in fact create a better province where everybody is making a living wage who is working? I know that’s somewhere in the future. But this allows us to at least have the conversation.”
The network said about 400,000 Albertans are low income and of those, about 60 per cent are considered the working poor.
Savoia said a living wage is a necessary component to resilient cities and the economy.
Mayor Ken Johnston said minimum wage typically doesn’t allow people to safely navigate the realities of everyday life, but there are Red Deer businesses that do provide a living wage which is reflected in staff retention and creates employees who are ambassadors for the business.
“Successful businesses are invested in their employees because they know their employees are extraordinarily fundamental to their success. It’s not about the latest piece of technology. It’s really the quality of the people who are interfacing with their customers,” Johnston said.
“A living wage, or competitive wage, is a way of ensuring your greatest asset remains your greatest asset, and doesn’t walk across the street to a competitor, or move to another city, because they can’t enable their families to survive and thrive.”