A new report on the ballooning cost of living in the three largest cities in New Brunswick makes a good case for increasing the minimum wage, according to its author.
Called "Living Wages in New Brunswick," the report calculates the living wages in Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton and Bathurst by investigating the costs of living and raising a family in those communities. The report was released by the Saint John Human Development Council this month.
According to Canadian Living Wage Framework, the living wage is determined as the hourly rate at which a household can meet its basic needs, once government transfers have been added to the family's income and deductions have been subtracted.
In Fredericton in 2021, the report pegs the living wage at $21.20 per hour, with the most costly expenses being "shelter" – which includes rent, insurance, internet and power. Food and child care come second and third. The living wage in that city rose 45 cents from 2020.
In Saint John in 2021, the living wage is $19.75, which is a dramatic $1.57 increase from 2018, the first year it was calculated in that city. The report lists shelter and child care as the largest expenses.
The living wage rose 30 cents in Moncton to $18.65 in 2021. The most expensive budget items are shelter and child care. In Bathurst, the report pegs the living wage at $17.50.
Heather Atcheson, author and lead researcher of Living Wages in New Brunswick, said the report reveals how low the minimum wage is, at $11.75 per hour, compared to the living wage rates in different communities.
New Brunswick currently has the lowest minimum wage in the country.
"We're not suggesting that the minimum wage be increased to a living wage, but we do think an increase to the minimum wage could be very helpful," Atcheson said. "We also think that public policy can make life more affordable. For example, increased public health care and also investing in public services, like increasing the supply of affordable housing."
A concerning trend, she said, is the steadily increasing costs of rent, child care and food from previous years, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Erin MacKenney, program director of the Saint John Learning Exchange, echoes those concerns.
"What it really is highlighting is an issue that is becoming exacerbated in the province and a lot of it does come down to the ability to secure affordable housing, an ability to pay for things like the internet in a world where COVID is still very much at the forefront," MacKenney said. "The cost of these things is increasing disproportionately to earning potential."
She added the number of clients at the Saint John Learning Exchange, who are struggling to find affordable housing and pay for groceries, is on the rise. "It's not a shrinking number and those problems are getting harder to address," she said.
Matthew Hayes, a member of the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, said the fastest way to reduce child poverty in the province, which is above 40 per cent in some parts of Saint John, is to increase the minimum wage.
"A lot of people would love to be able to afford a $1,320 a month apartment, but they are not able to do that. That really requires a much higher minimum wage than we have, and it also requires that we protect our affordable rental stock, which we aren't doing in New Brunswick right now."
Right now, Hayes said the province is at a crossroads and tenants are afraid.
"They are hearing from their landlords that their rents are going to increase because the government is increasing taxes. What needs to happen is we need rent control to hold the rents in check, and we need both the provincial and federal governments to expand affordable housing."
According to the report, a living wage has many advantages for both employees and their employers, such as boosting morale and job satisfaction.
"It provides adequate income to cover typical family living expenses. It lifts individuals and families out of poverty, increases their economic security, and reduces financial stress," reads the report. "A living wage is associated with reduced job turnover. It supports one's physical and mental wellness. A living wage improves worker productivity and efficiency."
Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal