Minimum wage falls short: living wage report

Alberta’s minimum wage is by no means a living wage for most people in Central Alberta.

Alberta’s minimum wage is by no means a living wage for most people in Central Alberta.

The province’s $10.20 per hour minimum wage, or $9.20 for those who serve alcohol, fails to meet basic needs of the majority of residents in a variety of area communities.

A living wage report released this month by Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance includes figures for Red Deer, Blackfalds, Eckville, Innisfail, Lacombe, Penhold, Ponoka, Rimbey and Sylvan Lake.

In Red Deer, lone parents with one child have it the toughest. Parents need to bring home $14.75 per hour to reach a living wage, or $4.55 more than the typical minimum wage.

The living wage for a Red Deer couple with two children is $13.11 per parent, and for single adults it’s $10.21.

Amanda Ens, community facilitator for the City of Red Deer working with CAPRA, said CAPRA pegged Red Deer’s overall living wage at $14.75 to take into account different sizes of families.

The living wage was also developed to cover just the bare necessities. For example a single adult would share a two-bedroom apartment and does not have a vehicle.

A living wage budget doesn’t include such things as saving for retirement, special dietary needs, credit card or loan payments, pet ownership, parking, life or disability insurance, and more.

“There are no extras in these budgets,” Ens said on Wednesday.

“Central Albertans, including businesses, said they would have put more things into a decent or dignified life, or living wage, than we did in our report,” she said according to a CAPRA survey.

In seven of the smaller Central Alberta communities in the report, the biggest gap between minimum wage and a living wage is for couples, both working, with two children. Living wages range from $17.38 in Rimbey, or $7.18 higher than minimum wage, to $14.41, or $4.21 higher than the minimum, in Eckville.

In Sylvan Lake, single adults have it slightly harder than working couples. A living wage for single adults is $15.17, or $4.97 higher than minimum wage. Close on their heels are working couples with two children, with a living wage of $15.13.

Ens said transportation plays a huge role in costs for those living in communities outside Red Deer.

“Some of the communities have significantly lower rent costs, but their living wages are not lower than Red Deer’s. That’s due to transportation.”

CAPRA has taken the lead in living wage research in Alberta. Up until now, no one has done the calculations for rural communities. Grande Prairie intends to follow suit, she said.

“We are trying to be a leader in Canada. There are only two regional poverty reduction coalitions across the country, one here and one in the Niagara region.”

Bill Moore Kilgannon, Public Interest Alberta executive director, said the province’s poverty reduction strategy is due out early next year so CAPRA’s living wage report has come at the right time.

He hoped that provincial funding to reduce poverty doesn’t cut into other important programs. The Homeless and Eviction Prevention fund that helped families at risk of homelessness was significantly cut when the province came out with its homelessness strategy a few years ago.

“Now it’s very difficult to get support, say if you’ve fallen behind in the rent and on the verge of being evicted. But once you become homeless, then you can get support under the 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness,” Moore Kilgannon said.

“They can’t pretend to bring in a poverty reduction strategy without actual investments.”

Moore Kilgannon said the province should address the high cost of infant care that prevents more mothers from returning to work or completing educational upgrades to increase family revenues.

“Alberta has the lowest stats on mothers in the workforce with children under the age of two. The national average was about 69 per cent in 2012 and in Alberta it’s about 60 per cent.”

Alberta could also create a child tax benefit like many other provinces. It could be added on the federal government’s child tax benefit without incurring the cost of a whole new administrative program, he said.

CAPRA is holding a Living Wage Employer Breakfast, from 7 to 9 a.m., on Nov. 7 at the Sheraton Hotel.

Ens said some employers already offer living wages, which can lead to employee retention and reduce training costs, and contributes to employees’ well-being. Some are paying above minimum wage but not a living wage.

Compared to Red Deer, the living wage is $17.29 in Calgary, $13 in Medicine Hat and $15.55 in Grande Prairie.