An increase in Ontario’s minimum wage, announced by the province Thursday morning, might seem like good news for people wrestling to pay their bills and to make ends meet.
Anti-poverty advocates, however, say the increase of 25 cents won’t do much to alleviate financial woes and will still leave poverty-stricken Ontarians in the dust.
Ontario’s ministry of labour announced that minimum wage in the province will be moving from $11 an hour to $11.25 an hour, effective Oct. 1 this year. The increase follows the province’s announcement last year of raising the minimum wage from $10.25 to the current $11, and promising annual increases would be tied to inflation.
Ontario will soon have the second-highest minimum wage in the country, after the Northwest Territories, but these changes aren’t going to get people — working full time and earning minimum wage — out of poverty.
“It’s still unfortunately going to leave thousands of low wage workers struggling,” said Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
“While the increase…is appreciated, it’s really not improving the situation in our community for about 30,000 people who go to work every single day and aren’t able to pull themselves or their families out of poverty.”
Cooper said that in Hamilton, and in other communities across the province, there’s a growing movement for what’s known as a living wage.
Living wages vary from region to region and are calculated for two adults working full time, with two kids, factoring in the costs of basic needs including food, shelter and transportation. It doesn’t factor in owning a home or savings, such as saving up for children’s education.
Cooper said Hamilton’s living wage is $14.95 per hour and that a number of local employers — small, private sector employers, some in the non-profit sector, churches and other faith-based groups — have signed up as living wage employers.
Just last week British Columbia announced the province will be raising its minimum wage by 20 cents, from $10.25 to $10.45 an hour. But, like in Ontario, that raise isn’t seen as enough.
Susan Low, from Victoria’s Community Social Planning Council, told Yahoo Canada News that the living wage in that city is over $18 an hour. In Vancouver, it’s over $20 an hour.
“One of the concerns is that the minimum wage is nowhere near enough to live on, so if you’re working full time at minimum wage, you’re below the poverty line,” Low said.
“That’s insufficient,” she said. “When someone works, especially if they’re working full time, they should not be living in poverty.”
Cooper recognizes that the living wage conversation is going to be a long-term conversation in Ontario, but noted that 150 cities in the United States, and a number of them in the U.K. as well, have moved to paying municipal workers a living wage.
“We’re encouraging the government to think a little bigger, set a different standard,” Cooper said. “Instead of settling with minimum wage, let’s move all workers out of poverty.”
To Cooper and other advocates, a living wage is a win-win-win situation. It would, he said, give workers the chance to move out of poverty, cut costs for employers by reducing turnover, training costs and absenteeism and would allow people to be regular consumers and regular participants in their local economies.