Politics

N.S. minimum wage falls far short of cost of living

NDP reintroduces bill to raise base pay to $15

Minimum wage is currently $10.70, the NDP wants to change that to $15
Nova Scotia’s minimum wage is $10.70 an hour. The NDP wants to boost it to $15.   Samantha Calio

Taylor Perry-Lewin works full-time hours at Wal-Mart, but like many other minimum-wage workers, she’s constantly stressed about whether she can pay her bills.

“I was making budgets in my head and think I do fine and payday would roll around and then I’d forget there would be another bill or something would come up unexpectedly; it was always a constant struggle,” says the 21-year-old sales associate.

“You definitely can’t live off of minimum wage, not in this day in age.”

The living wage in Nova Scotia is estimated to be $20.10 per hour, according to the Canadian Living Wage Framework, which provides definitions, calculations and strategies for living wage policies. It’s what a family needs to make to afford basic necessities, a number based on the actual cost of living in a specific community.

Nova Scotia has the third-lowest minimum wage in the country, at $10.70 an hour. Only New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are lower.

The Nova Scotia NDP reintroduced a bill this month to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. It is part of a three-part plan that would gradually increase the wage over three years.

“Low-wage incomes are a major problem in the Nova Scotia economy; we have approximately 130,000 people working with less than $15 an hour,” Gary Burrill, the Nova Scotia NDP leader, said in an interview.

“The principle that we are trying to follow is that a person with a full-time job ought to be able to afford the basics; a full-time job ought to provide you with an apartment of your own, to pay your bills and get your groceries.”

“Fifteen dollars is fair, from a wage perspective, because of the cost of things,” says Gerry Lonergan, owner of East Coast Bakery on Quinpool Road. “But for a small business owner … if the wage costs are too high, you won’t survive.”

Lonergan says large corporations, which have larger profits, should pay employees a higher wage, but it’s not feasible for small businesses.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, 27.7 per cent of people who weren’t married or in a common law relationship and those without dependents fell below the low income cut-off. Single women under 65 were the highest percentage living under the low income cut-off, at 36 per cent.

People who fall under the low income cut-off spend a larger amount of their income on necessities such as food, shelter and clothing, compared to other people.

“If people make more money I think that will address the problem (of poverty),” says Max Chauvin, a board of directors member with United Way Halifax. “There are a number of tools that can help and minimum wage is one of them.”

The proposal for raising the minimum wage to $15 was first suggested by the NDP in May, but was rejected by Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government due to the possible increase of inflation for small businesses.