Nfld. & Labrador

Living wage of $18.85 an hour needed for 'decent quality of life' in St. John's, study finds

A new study says the living wage required to meet basic household needs in St. John’s is more than seven dollars an hour greater than the province’s minimum wage.

Provincial minimum hourly wage more than $7 below determined living wage

Christine Saulnier authored the study determining the living wage in St. John's for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (Trevor Beckerson/Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

A new study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the living wage required to meet basic household needs in St. John's is more than seven dollars an hour greater than the province's minimum wage.

Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia director for the centre, authored the study and says a living wage for each working adult in a family of four in St. John's is more than $18 an hour.

"Thirty-five hours a week would require two adults in a household with two children to earn $18.85 [per hour]," she said.

"That basically means, anyone that wants to have a decent quality of life in St. John's should be earning $18.85."

What if our minimum [wage] took into account cost of living?- Christine Saulnier

That's a total of $7.45 an hour above Newfoundland and Labrador's current minimum wage of $11.40 an hour, but Saulnier said the minimum wage isn't necessarily reflective of the real cost of living.

"Nothing in terms of the development of the minimum wage really looks at what the cost is in a specific community," she said.

"What we're doing with a living wage is saying, what if our minimum took into account cost of living? What would that minimum then look like? It would look a lot higher for all the communities that we looked at."

Everything from food and shelter, to communications and medical expenses were factored into the living wage in St. John's.

Saulnier said she determined the living wage for people in St. John's by exploring the real life costs of living in the city and making a conservative budget for expenses.

"A living wage is calculated so that we actually cover the expenses in a specific community for the year in which we are looking to understand what it would cost — how much money would it require somebody to make," she said.

"It looks at food, shelter, clothing, footwear, transportation, communications."

The study examined families with two young children, but found that there are not significant differences in the wage needed to sufficiently meet the needs of a single adult.

'Who would be lifted up?'

Saulnier said there are "a range of occupations" that fall below the living wage, like many retail and arts and culture workers, cleaning staff, care providers and some education assistants.

She said paying workers in St. John's a living wage would be a step toward gender equality, as the study found the province has one of the largest gender pay gaps in Canada, with women earning about 66 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Also, about two-thirds of minimum wage earners in Newfoundland and Labrador are women.

"Part of why we calculate the living wage is to say 'if we were to pay our lower wage workers a living wage, who would be lifted up?'" said Saulnier.

"We know that actually is a gender equality initiative, more women would be lifted up than men because they do earn less than men, and more of them work in those occupations that are some of the lowest paid in our communities."

Benefits for employers

Saulnier said the study is also meant to ask employers to examine what they can do to better support workers.

She said there is evidence from across the country that shows employers who have begun paying workers a living wage see less turnover and reduced costs for training and hiring.

"We're seeing some actual net benefits for employers who are coming on board and paying a living wage," said Saulnier.

But the responsibility doesn't solely rest with the private sector. Saulnier said addressing the costs of public services by implementing a universal child care program or making changes to subsidies would result in a lower living wage.

With files from On the Go