New Brunswick

Saint John's calculated living wage $7 higher than provincial minimum

The city has calculated its living wage for the first time, coming in at $18.18 per hour, approximately seven dollars more than the provincial minimum wage.

Municipalities across Canada are using living wage calculations to reduce poverty

Saint John calculated its living wage for the first time, coming in at $18.18 an hour. (CBC)

Saint John is entering the discussion of living wages, following cities across the country like Vancouver and Whitehorse.

This is the first time Saint John has calculated its living wage. At an hourly rate of $18.18, it's about seven dollars more than the province's minimum wage of $11.25.

The living wage is calculated from the Canadian Living Wage Framework, a national standard guide that takes into account budget, income, tax deductions and other costs to determine what hourly wage is needed for people to live above the poverty line.

The framework uses a reference family of four — two adults who work full time and two children, one in school and one who needs full-time child care — to make living wage calculations for a city or town.

Municipalities across the country are using living wage calculations to reduce poverty.

Natalia Hicks is a social researcher and project manager for the Saint John Human Development Council, which identifies and addressed social issues in and around the city.

She said while $18.18 an hour seems like a lot, if you look at it as a salary, it is reasonable.

Natalia Hicks said the assumption that Saint John is a cheap place to live is not necessarily true when costs of living like clothing and food are taken into account. (Saint John Human Development Council)

"If both parents in the reference family are working full time, their salary would be $33,081," Hicks said.

Hicks also said it's important to note that a living wage is not mandatory, like the provincial minimum wage. Municipalities can run campaigns where employers voluntarily commit to paying a living wage.

Christine Saulnier said stagnation in wages is not good for workers or New Brunswick's economy. (Trevor Beckerson/Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

Christine Saulnier, the Nova Scotia director at the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives, said living wage was introduced in Halifax in 2015 and in a rural Nova Scotia community in 2016.

"Having that benchmark in the community as a touchstone [helps] people to understand what would a wage rate need to be in order for people to be able to thrive," she said.

Saulnier said the discrepancy between New Brunswick's minimum wage and the living wage in a city like Saint John raises questions about how minimum wage is determined.

"Our research is showing us that the minimum wage needs to go up and it needs to go up significantly. Workers have been standing still for a very long time, while they've been working harder, I should say, their wages have not been compensating them for their additional skills, their education, the additional time they've spent in the labour force," she said.

"We need to stop competing for the lowest wages and really shift gears."

Hicks said the living wage for Saint John reveals how much of an assumption it is when people say the city is a cheap place to live.

"When we compare Halifax to Saint John, the wages aren't that different, the costs of living aren't that different."

Hicks said child-care costs can consume 20 per cent of a family's budget in Saint John, and items like food and clothes are actually more expensive in New Brunswick than in bigger cities.

Saint John does not have a living wage campaign in the works, but Hicks said the next step is to just talk about the living wage calculation and look for solutions.

"There's a lot to be done just in terms of bringing to light the realities of the working poor and kind of shifting the way we think about compensation here."

With files from Information Morning Saint John