As the PC government puts the brakes on the minimum wage, new figures just released show that a living wage in Kawartha Lakes for a family of four is more than $4 higher than Ontario’s current minimum wage.
Local health officials say the gap is “worrisome” at a time when well-paying, full-time jobs continue to decline, and part-time employment can be unstable and unpredictable.
New calculations from the Ontario Living Wage Network () show a family of four in Kawartha Lakes – with both parents working full-time – would each have to earn a living wage of $18.42 per hour in order to cover basic expenses in 2018. It is the highest in Ontario after Toronto and Haliburton.
“The living wage is what a family of four – two parents and two children – needs to earn in 2018 to pay its bills and avoid living in poverty,” says Mary Lou Mills, a social determinants of health nurse with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
“It is worrisome that the living wage in Kawartha Lakes is higher than what someone would currently earn in a minimum-wage job. Unfortunately, with many support programs being cancelled or delayed, and the growth of unstable employment, the income gap in Kawartha Lakes is only going to get worse leaving low-income earners facing an even greater financial crunch.”
The Ontario Living Wage Network calculates the living wage using local data collected by the Health Unit, including the cost of food, housing (including rent, utilities and tenant insurance), phone, internet, transportation, child care, continuing education (one college course per year per adult), and medical/life insurance.
The Living Wage Network uses a standardized spreadsheet to calculate each community’s living wage, while also accounting for government transfers such as child tax benefits, child care subsidy, and government deductions and taxes. The living wage calculation also factors in a set amount across Ontario for clothing, footwear and contingencies.
“A living wage is different than the minimum wage,” Mills notes. “While a living wage reflects the true cost of living in one community, a minimum wage is legislated and is the same across Ontario.”
The local living wage calculation comes as the provincial government cancelled a $1 per hour increase in the minimum wage – which was to take it to $15 per hour. The Province has also cancelled the Basic Income program, which was being piloted in Lindsay and two other Ontario communities. The program provided people with a guaranteed minimum income. Data from the Basic Income pilot indicates that 70 per cent of participants were employed, but not making enough money to meet their basic needs.
While disappointed that government income-support solutions are being cancelled, Mills says businesses and employers can still be proactive by paying their staff a living wage.
“Many employers in Ontario do this and reap the rewards,” she notes. “Generally, businesses that pay a living wage see an increase in productivity, experience less staff turnover and save on hiring and training costs. When low-paid workers earn a living wage, they also tend to spend most of it in their local economy, which contributes to stronger economic growth.”
Along with a living wage, Mills says affordable housing, child care and transportation are also essential for people to be able to meet their basic needs and avoid having to live in poverty.
In The Case for Increasing the Minimum Wage, author David Green raises the idea of a social contract:
“There is a sense in which the functioning of the labour market represents an important social contract to which we are all signatories. Part of that contract says that if people work, and work hard, they should expect that their share of the final product will allow them to live a life of dignity. A wage structure with substantial inequality that includes people working full time but still ending up in poverty breaks that contract. The result is a society that does not function well, that turns on itself and breaks into groups, that is not as good a place to live, for anyone.”
— with files from Judy Paul.