Low minimum wage taking a toll on Nova Scotians

Minimum wage is set to raise to $12.10 on April 1, but some Nova Scotians say this isn't enough

A Dartmouth, N.S. mother who struggles to pay the bills isn’t surprised to hear that many other parents are in the same boat.

New statistics on family and child poverty from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) suggest one quarter of children in Nova Scotia are living in poverty.

The report stated there is evidence Canada is headed in the right direction when it comes to poverty reduction, but the statistics are less encouraging for Nova Scotia. 

Since 1989, Nova Scotia has reduced its child poverty levels the least compared with other provinces in Canada.

Monica Blank is a single mother who lives in Dartmouth with her two teenage kids. She works at Dairy Queen full time.

Making the minimum wage of $11.55 an hour, she brings home about $1,900 per month. Her rent is $975, but with utilities, it comes to about $1,300. After she pays for groceries, car insurance and gas, there is not much left. 

For single mothers working a minimum wage job, $11.55 just isn’t enough.  

“The minimum wage is a joke,” she said.

The 2019 report on child and family poverty stated: “Poverty is not just a measure of inadequate income to meet need. It is realized in food, housing, and transportation insecurity, poor health outcomes, and the frequent despair of ends not meeting due to structurally imposed conditions beyond individual control.” 

Hailie Tattrie is a volunteer for the Fight for 15 campaign in Nova Scotia, an organization committed to fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.  

“Of course there are kids living in poverty. It’s really hard.The cost of living for the past few years has just gone up and up and up and minimum wage is just not even close to matching it,” Tattrie said. 

“If you’re making $11.55 an hour –even if you’re working full time – when a livable wage is $19 an hour, how are you supposed to pay your bills or support your kids?” 

Blank said she constantly struggles to make ends meet and provide for her kids. 

“There is no extra money to do fun things with the kids. Their friends go on holidays to places like Mexico or Florida, and it breaks my heart that I can’t provide the same,” said Blank.  

Monica Blank and her kids in an older family photograph.   Monica Blank

Blank was living in Alberta before she moved back to Nova Scotia to be closer to family.  

“The rent here is the same or more, and yet minimum wage was $15 an hour there,” she said.

She said her health is affected by her constant stress over money. She does her best to eat healthy, but because of the cost of food she can’t always afford to.

Blank also has ulcerative colitis, and often goes without her medication because insurance doesn’t cover it and she can’t afford it.  

“There needs to be a change here, and soon,” she said.

Tattrie agreed that a change is needed in Nova Scotia. 

“To see the stats, we should be ashamed of that. And for our government to turn around and act like they’re doing something, it’s an insult,” Tattrie said. 

The 2018 Nova Scotia Minimum Wage Review Committee Report recommends that the province’s minimum wage increases by approximately $0.55 each year over the next three years (April 2019 to April 2021). This means by April 1, 2021 the wage would be $12.65. 

Tattrie said they could and should do much better.

“They’re not even scratching the surface as to what Nova Scotians need to thrive and survive and live a happy, healthy, meaningful life,” Tattrie said. 

“I’m so tired of the mentality: ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and just work hard and you’ll get what you deserve.’ That’s not true. A lot of low wage workers are the hardest workers I know.”

Halifax’s living wage

A 2018 report released by the CCPA calculated that for a couple with two children, the living wage in Halifax would be $19.  

In the report, a living wage is defined as a wage “designed to cover all basic necessities and allow families to live in dignity and enjoy a decent quality of life.” 

“You would have to work 75 hours on our current minimum wage or receive $30 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Halifax,” said Alec Stratford, executive director for the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers.  

Stratford said there’s a bit of a “sky is falling” mentality when it comes to raising the minimum wage.  

“We know jurisdictions that have moved to a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and that ‘sky is falling’ mentality and the idea that local businesses are going to shut down, has not materialized or happened anywhere in the history of minimum wage increasing to a sustainable amount,” said Stratford.  

Stratford said despite this, the hesitation continues.

“The answer is it has to do with politics and power and who holds it at this point in time and who the governments listen to,” he said.

Stratford believes the key to fixing the poverty problem in Nova Scotia lies in larger structural changes.  

“When folks have meaningful income they are able to make different choices, like re-educating themselves, having healthier lifestyles, engaging back in the workforce – that allow them to move forward,” he said. 

Ellen Riopelle

Ellen Riopelle

Ellen is a journalist currently living in Halifax. She has a penchant for travelling, craft beer, hammocks, good playlists and good stories.

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