$18.52 an hour. That's what it takes to make ends meet in Toronto, says report

Dene Moore
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
A construction worker works on the "ICE Condominiums" development site by Cadillac Fairview and Lanterra Developments in Toronto December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

A Toronto couple with two young children needs to earn $72,241.55 a year to meet their family’s basic needs, says a new report.

That means $18.52 an hour is the living wage in one of the country’s most expensive cities – a far cry from the minimum wage of $11.00, says Kaylie Tiessen, author of the study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“What we’re looking at is what it costs to meet your basic needs and live a healthy, sustainable life in your community,” Tiessen tells Yahoo Canada News.

“If you’re working a full-time job you shouldn’t be living in poverty.”

The report by the left-leaning think-tank looks at the real-life costs of a family of two parents who work 37.5 hours each per week, with two children, aged 7 and 3.

Tiessen and her colleagues say it costs a family just over $7,600 a year for nutritious food, $14,000-plus for rent for a two-bedroom apartment and $937 for power.

They added approximately $6,500 for vehicle costs like insurance, gas, depreciation and maintenance and another $1,682 for public transit.

The greatest expense is child care, at $17,000 a year, says the study.

And that’s home-based care. Child care at a government-approved child care centre would cost about $27,400 a year, it says.

A child care subsidy is available in Toronto but there were more than 18,700 people on a wait list in 2013, the authors found.

It costs just over $1,000 a year for laundry, $335 for school supplies and fees and almost $3,000 for medical insurance outside the provincial program for dental, vision care and prescriptions.

The family would pay almost $300 annually for tenant insurance, $1,200 for cellphones and $540 for Internet.

“It highlights the gross inadequacy of the minimum wage,” Tiessen says.

The tally includes four family movie outings per year and six meals out, along with a Science Centre pass and a YMCA membership, for $1,164.

And it allows for a two-week vacation, with one week at a provincial campground and a one-week “staycation” that includes a trip to the zoo.

It also includes $1,230 for the adults to upgrade their skills or take college courses.

“The living wage proposed for Toronto is by no means a luxury wage,” the report says.

“Many items that could be considered an essential component of a decent quality of life are not included… savings for a child’s education, retirement, home ownership, or even debt repayment.”

Of the three million working people in Toronto, 70,000 are considered working poor, says Tiessen, meaning they earn below Statistics Canada’s low income cutoff. The median wage in the city is $21 an hour, meaning 1.5 million earn less than that amount.

The report says low wages are prevalent in the retail and service sectors. The median wage for retail was $12.95 an hour in 2013 and in accommodation and food services, it was $11.50.

The CCPA’s living wage varies from city to city, based on tax rates, tax benefits, employee deductions and the cost of necessities, as well as social supports available.

Updated figures for Vancouver and Victoria will be released later this month.

The current living wage in Vancouver is $19.62 an hour. The province’s minimum wage is $10.25.

VanCity, the financial co-op, is the largest employer in Canada that has committed to the living wage for its 2,500 employees.

This month the group Ontario Living Wage Network will launch, with a goal of signing 100 living wage employers over the next year.

Duca Credit Union of Ontario committed to the living wage last fall and immediately adopted the report recommendation, announcing raises for 25 per cent of its workforce Friday.

The financial institution used to match the pay scale of the industry but for some workers, that fell short, Keith Taylor, AVP of strategic social impact, tells Yahoo Canada News.

“We saw people taking two jobs or more to make ends meet,” he says. “We want not just to pay at market but to pay fairly.”

They asked the CCPA to update the Toronto living wage and acted as advisors for the report.

Not only are employees benefitting but the policy has brought in new customers, he says.

“It absolutely has been good for business.”