The challenges of living in rural Nova Scotia may differ in some ways from living in the Halifax area, but one thing is same across the province: low-wage workers need to make more money if they are to break the cycle of poverty.
So says the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives, which released its annual living wage report last week. This year the report looks at Halifax and Antigonish.
The living wage for a hypothetical family of four where both parents work full time, one child is in full-time daycare and the other needs after-school care is $19.17 an hour in Halifax, while in Antigonish it's $17.30. The province's minimum wage is $10.70.
Shelter, daycare cost the most
"The wage rate is designed to first and foremost allow the family to escape financial stress, enable a family to be adequately housed and food secure," according to the report.
"The living wage supports the healthy development of their children and the participation of the family in the life of the community."
The majority of the budget calculated in the report is consumed by shelter and utilities (27 per cent) and child care (23 per cent). But there are also allowances for one of the parents to take community college courses to upgrade.
Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia director of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives, said that expense is crucial for families to be able to get ahead.
"When we think about the workers we have in mind — low-wage workers — those are the workers that we want to see being able to increase their skills and actually move up the wage ladder," she said.
"And that's how you do it: if you are able to get additional skills. This is how we break the cycle of poverty, as well."
The report said getting to the goal of a living wage requires a combination of initiatives by all levels of government, a commitment by employers, and lobbying and advocacy efforts to bring the issue to prominence.
An example of positive impact cited by the report is the new Canada Child Benefit, which helped lower the living wage for Halifax from last year's calculation of $20.10. A federal affordable daycare program could lower the rate by as much as another $3, said Saulnier.
Christine Johnson, chairwoman of the Antigonish Poverty Reduction Coalition, who worked on the report, said collaboration with employers in rural communities can be both easier and more challenging.
Other options for employers
People want to help because everyone tends to know each other, she said, but small businesses in rural areas often have little wiggle room when it comes to raising wages. In those cases, there are other things they can do, she said.
"They can look at, 'How can I have the most flexible scheduling options so that it matches my employees' child care needs,' or, 'Am I able to give somebody enough hours to participate in a benefits plan.'"
Johnson said poverty looks different in rural areas because it might not be as obvious. But it's there.
"You don't generally see homeless individuals living on the street, but we have lots of people who are homeless," she said. "It's hidden."