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A living wage in Halifax

by Robert Devet

It takes a wage of just about $20 per hour to live a dignified life in Halifax, a new report concludes. From left to right, moderator and United Way Halifax Interim CEO Rustum Southwell, Max Chauvin, also with United Way, and CCPA Nova Scotia Director Christine Saulnier, who wrote the report together with Mary-Dan Johnston. Photo Robert Devet
It takes a wage of just about $20 per hour to live a dignified life in Halifax, a new report concludes. From left to right, moderator and United Way Halifax Interim CEO Rustum Southwell, Max Chauvin, also with United Way, and CCPA Nova Scotia Director Christine Saulnier, who wrote the report together with Mary-Dan Johnston. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Most people in Halifax earning minimum wage or slightly above will tell you that it's not enough to make ends meet.

A new report written by the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) shows that they are right.

In fact, Nova Scotia's minimum wage, at $10.60 per hour, is not even close.

$20.10 per hour is what is needed to cover what it actually costs to live and raise a family in Halifax, the report concludes.

That is, to raise a family in dignity, the report emphasizes, and while enjoying a decent quality of life.

Or, as one low-wage earner quoted in the report explains: “Living wage to me means: live comfortably, being able to support family without stressing out, freaking out about a budget every week and things pop up. Less stress. Being calm...”

Local conditions affecting the cost of basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, utilities transportation, childcare and emergencies were carefully considered by the CCPA researchers. And the assumptions and conclusions of the report were validated by focus groups consisting of low-wage earners.

Food is always a problem.

“For me, and I am sure a lot of other parents that I have seen, we go without eating so that my son can have his three meals a day, his snacks, his juice, his milk,” one parent is quoted.

Health expenses, maybe somewhat surprisingly in a country with universal healthcare, take up a large portion of low-wage earners' budgets. Dental care, glasses, physio, and medication, none of those costs are covered by Medicare.

The authors of the report, sponsored by the United Way Halifax, hope to contribute to a discussion about living wages.

The data in the report should inform that discussion.

And because the methodology has been applied elsewhere it also provides a way to compare Halifax with other cities. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Halifax is much like Vancouver in terms of expenses, it turns out.

As well, the report's findings support discussions about taxes, affordable housing, subsidized daycare and other public services. For example, if child care fees were capped at $10 per day, Halifax' living wage could be reduced by as much as $3.55 per hour.

The report quotes employers, in British Columbia and elsewhere, who are committed to paying a living wage, both because it is the right thing to do, and also because it brings its own rewards in terms of reducing employee turnover etc.

Meanwhile the Nova Scotia Fair Wage Coalition continues its campaign to institute a $15.00 per hour minimum wage.

The coalition consists of ACORN Nova Scotia, the Canadian Federation of Students - Nova Scotia, the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council, and Solidarity Halifax.

Earlier the coalition organized a well-attended panel discussion. As well, the demand for a $15.00 Living Wage was a key theme at this year's International Workers Day in Halifax.

It appears that the Nova Scotia NDP is not yet willing to join the coalition.

“As a caucus, we agree a $15 minimum wage is much closer to a living wage and worthy of research and discussion,” writes Maureen MacDonald, in an email to the Halifax Media Co-op.

“Our party has a history of making this type of policy democratically at our policy conventions and we will continue to be guided by our party's policy on this issue,” the email states.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter    @DevetRobert

 

 


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