The average income of Thunder Bay residents is growing every year, but many people working in service jobs still struggle to make ends meet.

According to Canadian government data, retail and restaurant workers’ median pay in northwestern Ontario is $10.25 to $11 per hour. The North Superior Workforce Planning Board reports the overall median income for Thunder Bay was $31,360 in 2010. The median income for service-sector workers is not available, but the Planning Board believes they are not benefiting much from income growth.

Employment counsellor Jack Cleverdon said he sees first-hand what life is like for service workers in Thunder Bay and added that he thinks "more and more people [have] to do two or three jobs to support their families or support themselves to go to school."

He noted most service jobs are part-time and the pay is low. He gave an example of one client who has trouble meeting her monthly budget.

"She's working in the mornings (as) a cleaner," Cleverdon said. "In the afternoon she works at a call centre and in the evenings she works at the casino."

Living 'payday to payday'

Zellers employee Shannon Hodgkinson, who has worked at the department store for 18 years, said she feels lucky her husband makes a good wage.

Times were tough before he came along, she said.

"I would live payday to payday," Hodgkinson said, adding that a full-time retail job often only translates into 28 hours of work each week.

Hodgkinson said she knows a couple who both work in the service industry and they told her it's a constant struggle to get by.

It’s unfortunate retail jobs don’t offer better pay to those employees who truly enjoy working in customer service, added Malissa Irvine, who has worked in retail for 26 years.

"You would have a lot more people staying in the service industry for other reasons," she said.

"Not just because they had to work, [but] because they want to work … they want to go in and do that job."

Irvine said if it weren't for her husband's income, she too would struggle to get by.