Decent ‘living wage’ studied

In about eight months, Red Deerians will find out how much money a worker has to earn to have a decent standard of living in the city.

In about eight months, Red Deerians will find out how much money a worker has to earn to have a decent standard of living in the city.

On Tuesday, Red Deer city council discussed a resolution supporting Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance’s research to determine Red Deer’s living wage.

On Sept. 1, Alberta’s minimum wage increased to $9.95 from $9.75 an hour for all workers except those who serve liquor (those workers will continue to earn $9.05 an hour).

Alliance co-chair Tricia Haggarty-Roberts said minimum wage is not enough.

“To be able to live in Red Deer, to work at one job and partake in the best of what Red Deer and Central Alberta has to offer, requires significantly more than $9.95 or $9.05 an hour. That’s why we’re starting with the discussion and the research around a living wage for Red Deer,” Haggarty-Roberts said.

On Friday, Public Interest Alberta released Statistics Canada data showing 25 per cent of workers in Red Deer earn less than $15 an hour and 16 per cent of those earn less than $13 an hour.

Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said with municipal elections on the horizon and while Alberta Human Services Minister Dave Hancock consults Albertans to develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, it’s the perfect time for Albertans to look at how wages factor into poverty.

“If people are going to work full-time, full-year, they shouldn’t be living in poverty and they should be able to earn enough for a safe and healthy lifestyle. How we define that in each city, for each family type, is a conversation we want Albertans to have,” Moore-Kilgannon said.

He said each city and town can start by adopting a living wage policy for its municipal workforce and contractors. Several cities in the United States have living wage policies.

Haggarty-Roberts said Calgary has already determined its living wage is $14.50 an hour at a job without benefits and $13 an hour with benefits. Grande Prairie’s living wage for two working adults, with two children, is $15.55 without benefits.

Hopefully employers in Red Deer will work towards achieving a living wage for their employees, she said.

Moore-Kilgannon said Alberta’s new minimum wage is not good enough to achieve Premier Alison Redford’s commitment to eliminate child poverty by 2017.

He said more than half the 91,000 children in poverty in Alberta have at least one parent working full time throughout the year.

“Clearly they’re living in poverty because their parents are not able to make enough money even though they are working full time,” Moore-Kilgannon said.

Fred Scaife, executive director of the Red Deer Food Bank, said it’s children who suffer the most by not having a living wage.

“We talk great storms about helping children. The reality is as long as you deprive that family of money, those children will suffer. They are excluded from things other children get to participate in. Those children will not continue on to higher education. They will continue to live in poverty,” Scaife said.

It has been proven that a living wage works, he said. Mincome, an experimental project in Dauphin, Man., from 1974 to 1979, topped up income for participants and dramatically improved their lives, said Scaife.

“All kinds of things in that community changed while that experiment was going on. Kids were going to school longer. Less people were in hospital. Hospital stays were shorter. People were healthier. The Dauphin experiment showed many incredible things,” Scaife said.

“When you’re talking about a living wage, it draws one further away from the depths of poverty and it gives better advantage to those who need advantage the most.”

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