How did we come here? Hourly living wage increases in Niagara, driven by rising housing costs and other issues affecting the region
In the two years since the last calculation, the hourly living wage in Niagara Region has increased to $18.90 per hour.
For Niagara residents, the jump from $18.12 was not shocking, said Jennifer Gauthier, vice president of the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network (NPRN).
Rather, it was evidence of their own daily encounters.
“It kind of reflected what we were anticipating,” Gauthier said. “We all live here in Niagara and experience it ourselves — the impact of the rising cost of living.
Earlier this month, the Ontario Living Wage Network released its report, breaking down the day-to-day cost of living in Niagara. Impossible to make a calculation in 2020, the recent figures cover a period of two years.
The network calculates the living wage – separate from the minimum wage – for a number of cities in the province. The calculation reflects an hourly rate that a household must earn to live and be part of the community.
Expenses are broken down into categories, including food, clothing and shoes, housing (rent, utilities), transportation, child care, economic and community participation (cell phone, internet), and other expenses (medical insurance not covered by OHIP, continuing education).
The 2021 calculation used a weighted average of three different households – a family of four (living expenses are estimated at $74,948), a single-parent household ($42,966) and a single adult ($30,649). It assumes that each adult works 35 hours a week for a full year.
NPRN, a local partner of the Ontario Wage Network, said the report brought to the fore key issues affecting the Niagara region, particularly the lack of affordable housing.
Gauthier, who is also executive director of Women’s Place of South Niagara, said affordable housing is not available to the average person in Niagara, with the cost of buying a home continuing to rise exponentially. This plays a significant role in the high rent an average family pays.
And with the lifting of the rent freeze – as well as the government’s temporary policy preventing landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment – on December 31, Gauthier said they are also seeing this “catch-up” underway. , with people trying to afford to make back-payments or find ways, as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, to pay their monthly rent.
Childcare was also high on the list of family expenses in the updated living wage calculation.
“For women trying to enter the workforce, it can be very difficult to get not just a child care space, but affordable child care,” Gauthier said. “The number of child care spaces in Niagara is not meeting the needs.
And transportation – either the second or third highest expense for any family – remains a long-standing problem in a geographic area of nearly 1,900 square kilometers.
“The cost of transport (is) high, and just the ability to travel to different areas of the region. So getting to work from Fort Erie to St. Catharines is nearly impossible,” Gauthier explained.
The pay raise itself may have been planned, but what surprised the NPRN, which works to end poverty through education, collaboration and advocacy, was to see Niagara continue to feature at the top of the list in terms of expenses. The $18.90 salary was the fifth highest calculated community, behind only Toronto, Halton Region, Peel and Simcoe County.
“COVID-19 has increased the price of food, which will impact the cost of living,” Gauthier said. “There was a lot of inflation that we saw from the price of gas, the price of food. All of those things are going to impact the living wage as they go up.
Niagara currently has 63 living wage employers, 20 of which joined the program last year. Gauthier said the drive to become a living-wage employer shows people are looking to differentiate themselves from other employers and hire “really great, skilled employees.”
It also shows that they are invested in their employees.
“(Employees) know that they are hired by a company that takes care of their people and they want them to have a good quality of life. It’s really important to have an employer who wants to empower the people who work for them,” she said.
“Plus, they’re able to retain their employees longer, (without) incurring those recruitment costs, those training costs because people stay longer because they’re being paid a competitive salary.”