What does a living wage get you?
ThePeterboroughExaminer.com – news/local
October 4, 2013. By Joelle Kovach
If you’re earning around $16 an hour and raising a family, in Peterborough, chances are you are making ends meet – but just barely.
The “living wage” in Peterborough is $16.47 an hour, says a report released this week by the Peterborough Social Planning Council.
If you’re making a living wage, the report says, you’re not using the food bank and you’re not homeless.
“But it’s not comfortable living,” said Paul Armstrong, a volunteer who worked on the report. “It’s a more or less modest existence. You’ll have a staid lifestyle.”
The report conceives of a hypothetical family – two parents, both working full-time, with two young children, living in a rental apartment in Peterborough – and calculates how much each parent would have to be earning, per hour, to pay basic bills.
If each parent is making $16.47 per hour, the rent, groceries and utilities are covered. So is phone and Internet, one family outing per month and an annual two-week vacation.
Still, this family’s budget is tight. Dawn Berry Merriam, research and policy analyst with the Social Planning Council, is concerned about what they cannot afford.
They aren’t saving any money, for instance: that means no retirement savings, no education savings and no fund for household or car repairs. It also doesn’t allow any money for paying off a student debt.
You may be keeping your family fed while making a living wage, Berry Merriam said, “but it doesn’t allow any cushion. That $16.47 is bare bones.”
It’s not much easier in other cities. Berry Merriam says that in Guelph, for example, the living wage is currently $15.95 an hour. In Hamilton, it was last calculated in in 2011; at that time, it was $14.95.
Those figures – as well as the Peterborough one – were calculated according to a formula set out by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Armstrong said one way to help people who are struggling to make ends meet is to pay them more.
Minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25, and has not increased since 2010. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce wants the Ontario government to increase the minimum wage, next summer, and then increase it again every other year, pegged to inflation.
Berry Merriam approves of that idea. Workers would like it, she said, but employers, too: it allows them to plan for incremental pay increases.
Some social planning councils around Ontario use their living wage calculation to push for higher wages, Berry Merriam said.
That won’t happen, locally. Berry Merriam said the figure is used more as “an educational tool”.
It gets people talking, she said, and thinking about how much money it really takes to raise a family in Peterborough.
“We’re hoping this will start a discussion around many tables,” she said.
She added that she doesn’t expect every employer in town to pay its employees better than a living wage.
“Not every small business is going to be able to afford this,” she said. “It’s getting the dialogue started.”
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