Analyzing the living wage

Communities across Canada advocate for wages that don’t merely support basic living needs, but also allow active citizenry.

Graphic by Jessica Mitra
Graphic by Jessica Mitra

Communities across Canada have begun to advocate for wages that don’t merely support basic living needs of residents, but also allow them to be active citizens. This has been labelled a living wage, which in Waterloo is calculated to be $16 per hour.

Of the living wages for regions in Ontario that are included on the Living Wage Canada website, Waterloo sits somewhere in the middle. Guelph-Wellington is most similar to Waterloo at $15.95. Brantford is on the low end, with a living wage of $14.85 and Halton is on the high end at $17.05.

This living wage is based specifically on the cost of living within a specific community.

“It is more than just sneaking by. It is enough so you should be able to participate in life in the community,” said Greg deGroot-Maggetti, chairperson of the Living Wage Waterloo Region steering committee.

The living wage in Waterloo is based on the expenses of a family of four, with both adults working full-time throughout the year at 37.5 hours per week.

The Living Wage Waterloo Region program recognizes all organizations that choose to pay their employees a living wage. According to deGroot-Maggetti, 11 organizations have contacted the Living Wage Waterloo Region program, with over 300 employees affected.

House of Friendship is part of the living wage program, and while the organization is unable to pay all staff a living wage, all full-time employees receive a living wage.

Michael Hackbusch, chaplaincy director at House of Friendship, explained the effects of the program.

“I think they help our municipality financially,” he said. “When you get people who are earning the lowest incomes, when you increase those incomes the general economy goes up.

The living wage includes costs for health and life insurance, along with basic necessities of housing, food, clothing and transportation, as well as recreational activities. Some companies provide health and life benefits, which allow corporations to pay employees a little less than the living wage.

According to the calculation report, the monthly cost of living for a family of four is $5,489, totaling to $65,868 per year.

One unique aspect of living in Waterloo that may affect the cost of living is the subsidization of childcare.

“One of the other things in Waterloo Region that we found has had an impact on the calculation of the living wage rate was the investment that the provincial government and regional government of Waterloo has made in childcare subsidies,” said deGroot-Maggetti.

According to Hackbusch, when the topic of living wage is brought up many people worry that small businesses won’t be able to afford to pay their employees the wage. However he said even large corporations, such as Walmart or fast food chains, only pay their employees minimum wage.

“That is what participating in living wage Waterloo Region does … it stimulates a conversation and dispels some previously held assumptions,” he said.

DeGroot-Maggetti explained there are still some organizations that do not pay employees a living wage, such as cleaning or food services.

“Minimum wage is not really based on any actual cost of living in a community. The living wage rate does,” he continued. “It gives a benchmark for employers to have a sense if they want to make sure their employees earn enough to have a decent life.”

It is for these reasons that there needs to be continued dialogue on living wage.

“It is a win-win … I don’t think it is a way to get rich at all, but it is just above survival,” Hackbusch said.


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