Nearly one in five Red Deer workers makes $15 an hour or less, says a provincial advocacy group.
That is in line with the provincial average of 18.6 per cent.
Public Interest Alberta and the Alberta College of Social Workers joined forces to release statistics from Statistics Canada on low-wage workers in the province this week.
Their research shows 354,700 Alberta workers earn $15 per hour or less. The NDP has committed to raising the province’s minimum wage, now at $12.20 to $15 by 2018.
In Red Deer, 8,300 workers fall into that category.
The burden of low wages does not fall equally on men and women, shows the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey. Two-thirds of Red Deer employees earning the current minimum wage are women.
Public Interest Alberta is well aware that there is resistance in some quarters to the cost to the business community of raising wages. Among the organization’s goals is to put the impacts of the wage increases in a broader context.
“With the government that was elected part of their mandate was to help address gender inequality and minimum wage increases are one of the ways that they can do that,” said executive director Joel French on Friday.
Province-wide, it is estimated more than 100,000 women will get pay increases when the minimum wage next increases on Oct. 1.
French said Public Interest Alberta has long advocated for higher minimum wages in Alberta, where the lowest wage level had lagged behind other provinces.
French said the government’s commitment to boosting the minimum wage is obviously good news for many Albertans. However, it is still not considered a living wage for many who live in the province’s two biggest and most expensive cities, as well as Grande Prairie.
In those cities, “it costs more than that to just get by at a modest level of existence,” he said.
“In a place like Red Deer, ($15) is closer to what a living wage would be at least because the cost of living is a little bit lower there than some of the other centres.”
The advocacy group is also keen to address the myth that most minimum wage workers are teenagers living in their parents’ basements using the money for personal spending.
“In fact, the data shows that province-wide 77 per cent of the workers making $15 an hour or less are at least 20 years old. Percentage-wise, it’s not a very big number that are teenagers.
“The large majority of these workers are in fact adults trying to support families or planning for families or paying for post-secondary education.
“It’s a different picture than the story that’s sometimes put out there.”