This month, YWCA bloggers have written about poverty and their experiences with it. I have my own experience, which I’ve written about before, but today I want you to imagine what a living wage could do for our most vulnerable workers in Niagara.
Recently, we were told that St. Catharines is the worst city in Canada for a job and an affordable home. While some people around Niagara will spend a great deal of time pointing out the flaws with the study (and there are a few), many of us know that what was reported in this article is not far from the truth.
It is difficult to find a job in St. Catharines/Niagara (and even more difficult to find one that pays more than minimum wage, never mind finding one that isn’t seasonal or otherwise precarious) and it is difficult to afford to buy a home in St. Catharines/Niagara.Now, imagine what a living wage could do to improve this situation. Imagine what paying people $17.47 per hour would do to raise women, children, and men out of poverty and make their day-to-day existence less stressful.
This $17.47 per hour is based on a dual-parent, dual-income family with one school-aged child and one child not yet in school. We used this family dynamic, because it is the most common dynamic across Canada, and it is the standardized model used by numerous other communities across the country.
By all accounts, $17.47 per hour is a modest calculation of what it costs to live in Niagara. While an annual budget for Family Outings ($878.70) and Family Vacation ($714.91) has been calculated for this family, think about what that means in terms of both community participation/inclusion (imperative for social health and well-being) and how limited this actually is for this family for the year. They are not travelling to some exotic location to enjoy a week in the sun, they’re taking day trips around Niagara, maybe staying at a local campground. My point is that $17.47 per hour does make it possible for workers to experience less stress, but it does not mean they are living in the lap of luxury.
Many people balk at the $17.47 per hour that it costs to live in Niagara, but consider this: We occasionally have people in our emergency shelters, because they work a full-time minimum wage job and their car broke down. They had to choose between fixing their car and paying their rent. Imagine that.
Even when minimum wage increases to $11.40 on October 1, there remains a gap of $6.07 between minimum wage and an adequate living wage. That’s a gap of $45.53 for a 7.5-hour workday, or $227.63 for a 37.5-hour work week, or a gap of $956.03 per month, or – finally – a gap of $11,472.30 per year.
Imagine what minimum wage workers – some of the very hardest workers we have in Niagara, especially when you consider the sectors in which they’re working – could do with another $11,000 per year.
Imagine the benefits employers would reap for paying a living wage. From higher productivity and morale to lower turnover and absenteeism. From more customers and their own employees being able to purchase their products and services to less money spent on recruiting and training workers. The list goes on.
We know that there are employer, worker, and community benefits to paying a living wage. We also know that employers cannot bear the brunt of raising people out of poverty. It takes an integrated approach. To that end, the federal government has just made a significant improvement in overhauling the Canada Child Benefit (CCB), so that it is means tested. Further, provincial governments have agreed not to clawback social assistance payments with this increase in the CCB. For a family making $30,000 per year, the overhaul means their CCB was doubled. (And, yes, this means that when we re-calculate the living wage for Niagara, it will drop from its current $17.47 per hour. It should also be noted that if an employer is paying benefits, the living wage drops as well.)