Living wage in Hamilton now $17.20 an hour, groups estimate

In 2019, Hamilton's living wage was $16.45. Now, it's $17.20 and rent prices are a big reason why the living wage shot up in just two years.

Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction say rent prices have driven up living wage calculation

Hamilton's living wage calculation was one of 23 updated wage rates released by the Ontario Living Wage Network this week. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

After three-and-a-half years of helping customers, folding clothes and cleaning while working at a Hamilton clothing store, 22-year-old McMaster student Aya Younis got her first raise.

Last year, her pay went from around $14 an hour, then the provincial minimum wage, to $15.

But she says that still isn't enough and that many others living in Hamilton — at least 30,000, according to Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction — continue to earn less than what Younis and others say is needed. 

"It's super precarious... Not a lot of places even offer a living wage, so I haven't found it useful to really look around," she told CBC Hamilton on Monday.

"I go to work feeling a load of stress ... I can't explain much more how important it is."

Younis is among a growing number of voices calling for Hamilton businesses to pay their workers a living wage — a wage that is steadily rising, according to the Ontario Living Wage Network.

Rent prices drove up living wage calculation

The network says a living wage is the hourly pay workers need to make ends meet and participate in their community (such as eating at a restaurant once a month). It varies based on where you live.

"It's not just being able to buy a potato and balance precariously on the edge of life, but to participate fully," Deirdre Pike from the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton told reporters during a Monday morning media conference that announced a newly calculated living wage in Hamilton. 

"Minimum wage does not reflect the cost of living ... jobs that don't add up to a route out of poverty are keeping people languishing."

Provincial minimum wage is currently $14.35 an hour. The province is expected Tuesday to announce that will increase to $15 an hour in 2022. Yet even in 2019, Hamilton's living wage was estimated at $16.45. Now, the network says, it's $17.20.

The city is one of 23 living wage calculations the network updated and released this week. Toronto, at the highest, is $22.08 an hour. The Niagara region living wage is $18.90. 

The wage is generally based on what two people with full-time jobs and two kids need to support themselves, but this year Pike said single adults are now most representative of people between 18 and 65-years-old.

Tom Cooper, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction's executive director, says $17.20 is the bare minimum for Hamilton, because the calculation doesn't include money for paying off debts or any savings.

"We don't think any employer in Hamilton should be paying less than a living wage," he said in an interview.

The living wage rose, Cooper said, mainly due to local rent prices and would be even higher if the government hadn't introduced some more financial supports such as the Canada child benefit.

Financial supports related to the pandemic aren't included in the calculation, though COVID-19 has highlighted inequities in the city and cost people their jobs.

Hamilton has nearly 40 employers paying workers a living wage.

Younis, who is graduating this spring and lives with her family, said she hopes more businesses will join the list of certified living wage employers.

"It's a very important thing to me and a lot of people and I really think people don't even know this initiative is happening right now, so we the more we push for this, the more people are going to realize they're not alone," she said.


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