A new report shows Nova Scotians need a much higher income than the current minimum wage to afford to live in the province.
The Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — an independent, non-partisan research institute — found the living hourly wage varies from $18.45 to $22.05, depending on location.
This is significantly higher than the provincial minimum wage of $12.95 an hour.
"It does raise questions about how people are making ends meet. I mean, they're really struggling," said Christine Saulnier, the author of the report and director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Nova Scotia.
"Is it acceptable to just say people need to make the poverty line?"
The report, titled Living Wages in Nova Scotia 2021: Working for a Living, Not Living to Work, examines the costs, available government supports and services, and norms of five regions: northern and southern Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Valley, Cape Breton and Halifax.
The numbers were calculated using a methodology that involved taking data from Statistics Canada and other sources to determine costs in a given community. A budget was then created to determine how much income is needed in order to cover expenses, premiums and taxes.
"We answer a really key question, which is what would it take for somebody to be able to afford all of the essentials?" said Saulnier.
The formula also took into account how much government support is available, but Saulnier said living costs keep rising, and government support is not rising with them.
"There is not enough income support here," she said. "The income levels are just so low to qualify for the Nova Scotia Child Benefit or to qualify for the Nova Scotia Affordable Tax Credit."
Miia Suokonautio, the director of the YWCA in Halifax, said many people who make minimum wage cannot afford basic needs.
"Housing, food and child care has been almost out of reach for people," Suokonautio said.
She pointed out that many people assume those living on minimum wage are students, but in reality, a large proportion is made up of families or single parents.
Suokonautio said the stress on a family can be immense.
"The first thing they will cut is the thing that is the most elastic, which will be their food. They will eat less, or rely more heavily on food banks, and they'll eat poor quality food," she said.
"In the most extreme circumstances, people remain in overcrowded housing. They remain in unsafe housing. They remain in situations of domestic violence."
Suokonautio said being paid a living wage can make a huge difference in households.
"All of the research shows that when you provide low-income households with more revenue, they have better health outcomes, higher degrees of stability, fewer household moves, better educational attainment for schools, fewer interpersonal conflicts," she said.
Saulnier said though change is necessary, it should not just rest on the government to provide more services.
"[The report] is really a call out to employers to pay the living wage," she said. "It's calculated so that private employers understand what a wage rate would be required in order for their workers to have a bit of a cushion and be able to have a fairly decent quality of life."
Minimum wage review in the works
Saulnier does hope to see the provincial minimum wage get a boost in response to the findings of the report.
Labour Minister Jill Balser said she read some of the report, but needs more time to consider the contents.
"We know how important this issue is for all Nova Scotians," she said. "When we're going forward and looking for positive solutions, it includes talking to businesses as well as employees because this is something that impacts everyone."
She said there is a review process underway to look at the current minimum wage and make recommendations. The findings will be presented to her at the end of this year.
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