Social justice coalition Alternatives North has launched a new campaign to alleviate financial pressures on the working poor in Yellowknife.
The Yellowknife Living Wage campaign kicked off at the Baker Centre last Wednesday, where the group revealed the city’s ideal living wage to be $20.68 an hour for each parent in a family of four.
That number was determined by Alberta-based economist Michel Haener, who put together a report on the living wage. Haener has also calculated wages for communities in her home province, including Canmore, Red Deer and Grande Prairie. She noted that Yellowknife was the second-most expensive of the regions she has calculated.
“Those of us who live here know that this is an expensive place to live,” said Julie Green, who headed up the initiative. “The cost of housing is very high, the cost of childcare is very expensive as well so I wasn’t too surprised that it came in at that big rate.”
The living wage is defined as the hourly amount of earning a family needs to cover basic expenses and is calculated based on a national framework, used across the nation for continuity. It is used to calculate the wage needed for a two-income family during a 40-hour work week. It accounts for having one child in school and another in care. It also considers other factors including basic necessities, food, clothing, shelter, health care and social inclusion, among others.
Haener’s report states that about 1,700 people living in the city, or about 10 per cent of the population, earn between $13 and $19.99 per hour. A majority of those earners are employed in the service sector and often take on second or third jobs to keep their families comfortable.
The living wage for a lone parent with one child in Yellowknife is $25.81. For a single adult, it is about $19.91.
Currently, the minimum wage in the NWT is $12.50.
Benefitting the working poor
Now that the people of Yellowknife have access to information regarding the living wage, the coalition is working to help out the city’s working poor.
“There are sort of two next steps. One is that the coalition is in the process of growing their people who are looking at passing living wage resolutions,” Green said. “The second thing is to start signing up employers as living wage employers.”
The idea is to implement the action quickly and avoid the bogged-down nature of bureaucratic processes.
“The Living Wage campaign really has the community taking responsibility for poverty instead of putting it all onto the government,” Green said. “You’re asking employers to pay the living wage and you’re asking consumers to shop at those places where the living wage is paid.”
The campaign, while new to Canada, has been used internationally for some time.
“Living Wage, although it’s sort of a new term in Canada and it’s gained momentum fairly recently, has been around for a while,” Haener said. “It’s actually been around since the 1990s… in the United States and the United Kingdom.”
Green, who is running for MLA in Yellowknife Centre against incumbent Robert Hawkins, said the timing of the launch was strategic.
“We wanted to coincide with the municipal election because it is a city issue, it’s a community issue,” she said. “People are going to be talking about community issues over the next four or five weeks and we wanted to make sure that they were talking about this issue too.”