The debate on minimum wage increases in Alberta is a combination of fact and fiction. Opponents of minimum wage tend to argue that the economy can’t handle it, there will be massive job losses or those relying on minimum wage are teenagers living at home. These arguments tend to ignore the facts and evidence that challenges the very basis of their arguments.
Minimum wage disproportionately affects women with over 60 per cent of minimum wage earners identifying as women. Imagine you are a single mother trying to raise your children on $11.20 per hour, approximately $22,000 per year, this is a staggering reality for over 15 per cent of minimum wage earners in Alberta. We know that the face of poverty in Canada is a woman’s face and when women live in poverty so do their children. We know that in Alberta, gender related income gaps continue to exist and women working full time in this province earn approximately 68 cents for every dollar earned by a man making this the largest gap in Canada.
The current minimum wage rates don’t even cover the living wage women and men need to make to maintain basic necessities. According to a release from Public Interest Alberta, an hourly wage of $15 is required to move a person past the poverty line. Even more recently, Vibrant Communities Calgary notes that the living wage in Calgary is $18.15 per hour creating nearly a seven dollar deficit per hour.
That’s why we at the YWCA are ardent supporters of increases to minimum wage because we recognize that creating an environment where women can thrive benefits our community as a whole. We recognize that minimum wage disproportionately affects women, families and single parent households. As an organization, we believe women should have the greatest opportunities for empowerment and self-determination including making a wage that brings women out of poverty.
We know that 67.3 per cent of minimum wage earners in Alberta are not teenagers and more than 50 per cent are employed in the retail trade and accommodation and food services industries. The service industry is particularly challenging for minimum wage earners with the two-tiered system that requires liquor servers be paid 50 cents less an hour than the current minimum wage. The long standing argument is that liquor servers supplement their hourly income with tips. However, many do not consider the tip out servers are required to pay the front of house, kitchen or employer or the reality that tips and customers are not guaranteed. Furthermore in a downturn, the ebbs and flows of spending money on eating out can impact whether a server or bartender can make rent or pay for groceries.
As Calgary’s largest and longest serving women’s organization, we are focused each day on our vision of women thriving in a safe and equitable community. As a leader in the non-profit sector, we know that supporting minimum wage begins with our own team. We have proudly been a wage leader since 2011 and are proud to support the Alberta government’s commitment to raising Albertan’s out of poverty and improving living standards across the board. We know that this begins with paying individuals a wage they can survive on to help end the cycle of poverty.