Hamilton’s living wage is nearly $3 above the provincial minimum

Monday morning, living wage hamilton released their new living wage rate for city workers.

According to the coalition of community groups, including Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, McMaster Community Poverty Initiative, Social Planning and Research Council and Workforce Planning Hamilton, $17.20 is the minimum rate city residents should earn to account for the cost of living – or $35,776 per year based on a 40 hour work week.

At a press conference, Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, said about 30,000 people in the city were not earning a living wage, but some indicators show he could reach 43,000.

According to the coalition, a living wage is what an employee needs to earn by the hour to “make ends meet and participate in civic and cultural life.” It takes into account transportation, food, rent, childcare, and other expenses such as internet service and “modest recreational opportunities.”

Unlike minimum wage standards set by the government, living wages are voluntary for employers. As of October 2021, the Hamilton area had 35 employers paying their employees Hamilton’s former living wage rate of at least $16.45 per hour announced in 2019.

Living Wage Hamilton says the cost of living in the city exceeds the provincial minimum wage rate of $14.35, especially as housing and food prices rise exponentially. Minimum wage students in Ontario earn even less than $14.35, with the wage rate being $13.50 per hour.

The pandemic is just one example of why people should be paid a living wage, said Ana Younis, a young worker and member of the Hamilton and District Labor Council’s Living Wage campaign. Earning a living wage “prepared me for an emergency,” Younis said, as she could save some of her income rather than living paycheck to paycheck.

The minimum wage is a challenge for workers, she said, and the cost of living in the city is rising.

In September, the average home price in the area reached $881,656, 22% higher than the September 2020 average. According to a study by Oxford Economics, Hamilton is the fifth least affordable city in America North.

But it’s more than housing. According to Statistics Canada, the cost of food has increased by approximately 240% since 2000.

Even with full-time jobs, the city’s minimum-wage earners still have access to food banks, and they don’t have a “pathway out of poverty,” said Deirdre Pike of the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton.

Beyond access to food banks, private and public sector employees who do not receive a living wage are “subject to more stress, such as debt, anxiety, long-term health problems, lack of workforce productivity and fractured personal relationships,” said Shawna Mutton, vice president of community impact at United Way Halton and Hamilton, a local organization that implements a living wage.

With a living wage, Mutton said employees are more productive, employee loyalty increases, costs associated with absent staff, training and recruitment decrease, and the local economy grows.

Michael A. Bynum