Written by Carli Taylor
I often dream about how relieving it would be to receive my telephone or hydro bill and be able to immediately log into my bank account and make that payment— instead of having to wait for my next paycheck.
And this is coming from someone who works full time and has a husband who works full time.
My husband earns a decent salary and carries the lions’ share of our expenses. While I may earn above minimum wage, it certainly doesn’t stretch very far—but as I’m often told, such is the life for those working in the social services sector. That’s my cross to bear (and unfortunately my husband’s too).
I consider us pretty lucky though. We own a beautiful home. Drive nice vehicles. We eat pretty well and can afford our insurance and monthly bills. We can afford some evenings out for some stress/work relief. However, at the end of the month, there is little to nothing left over for saving for the future. This is a constant worry for us—and we are among the lucky ones.
Throughout the Niagara Region homelessness and poverty continue to reach epidemic levels. Too many families are struggling just to get by. They work hard, but with ever increasing basic living expenses—groceries (not just food, nutritious food!), utilities, clothing, transportation, health care, childcare and hopefully education never mind the uncertainties we all face such as illness, caring for elderly parents and saving for retirement and the likelihood that you have debt to repay—How are we supposed to keep up?
In fact— over 1.6 million Canadian households (1 in 8 families) struggle to put enough food on the table every day and over 12% of Canadian households are in core housing need. There are over 5700 families in the Niagara Region alone that are currently on the Niagara Regional Housing affordable housing waiting list.
Everyone who works in this country earns at least a minimum wage- a legislated minimum amount that employers must pay. This wage does not reflect rising costs of basic needs or basic quality of life. And this is why those who earn only the minimum wage are considered the working poor.
This is why the call for a Living Wage has begun to be heard around the world, and now specifically in Ontario and other areas of Canada.
A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their needs that are considered to be basic. It’s the possibility of an hourly wage that affords a person to pay their expenses and help lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a wage that would reflect the cost of living in a specific region and would differ from city to city.
The idea of a living wage is not to suddenly afford a person to run out and purchase a home or pay off credit or student debt— it’s only meant to ensure basic living expenses can be met. And while there are many factors and agreements to be made regarding what would actually define basic needs, I truly believe this is a necessity in our community. During our last No Fixed Address event the YWCA was actively asking members of the community to sign the petition to call upon all candidates and parties running for municipal and regional councils in 2014 to commit, that if elected, to initiate a study to cost and consider the implications of a living wage policy in our community. The Niagara Poverty Reduction Network recently reported that the living wage for Niagara is currently being calculated.
There are many arguments for and against this idea, all of them to be considered before
something of this kind of impact can be put into place. But I think it’s only fair to the thousands of working poor in our community to give them a chance— a chance at eventually rising out of poverty and in turn giving them an opportunity to change the cycle of poverty. As I for one know, I would still be considered the working poor had I not married the man I did—even though I earn above minimum wage.
For more information on what the Niagara Region is doing about poverty please visit http://www.wipeoutpoverty.ca/ and for more information on the living wage policy please go to http://livingwagecanada.ca/