The Hamilton Spectator

Grand Erie wages lag living wage: report

- MIKE PEARSON

A new study from the Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie suggests that 54 per cent of the region’s working residents don’t earn enough to cover basic family needs.

Released in February, the board’s 2023-24 local labour market plan analyzes income and labour data in six communitie­s, including Haldimand, Norfolk, Brantford, Brant, Six Nations and Mississaug­as of the Credit First Nation.

Using Ontario Living Wage Network data from November 2023, the living wage for Grand Erie was $20.35 per hour, or $42,328.

The figure accounts for basic expenses like food, shelter, clothing, transporta­tion, medical and child care.

According to 2021 census data, the median income for Haldimand and Norfolk was $35,200. Brantford and Brant’s median income was $37,600. Both figures fell below the provincial average of $38,000.

Twelve of the top 25 most in-demand job categories paid average salaries below the region’s living wage, the report notes. Jobs with salaries under the living wage comprised more than 40 per cent of all job postings that contained salary informatio­n in 2023.

Research lead Wynona Mendes noted that while it’s likely that wages have risen since 2021, those increases have evaporated due to inflation, leaving workers struggling to maintain a basic living standard.

“It’s a little bit surprising to see,” said Mendes, addressing the income findings.

“Even compared to Ontario as a whole and some of the other smaller communitie­s, we do have a relatively low median employment income, so the thing that’s really important for us to draw attention to is the cost of living is only going up. And for many people, the wage they are receiving doesn’t really match what is acceptable according to the Ontario Living Wage Network.”

Mendes noted that consumers have experience­d drastic cost-ofliving increases over the last two years, including a 6.8 per cent hike in the consumer price index for 2022.

“We’re really advocating for wages to rise at along the same pace, which historical­ly they have not done,” said Mendes.

Mendes added that the living wage minimum still doesn’t account for items like retirement savings, debt repayment and home ownership.

“It really is just a basic income, so to recognize that just over 50 per cent of our population doesn’t meet that is something that we really need to work on together,” Mendez noted.

Dave Lane, co-ordinator of the Hagersvill­e Food Bank, said in an email that he organizati­on doesn’t require financial informatio­n during client registrati­on, so it’s difficult to pinpoint how many low-income earners are turning to the organizati­on for emergency food assistance.

But Lane noted that the food bank has experience­d a 30 per cent increase in overall demand over the past year.

“Our costs have soared over the last year and donations have dropped off significan­tly. We attribute part of this to people finding it more difficult to handle their own expenses, let alone help us out as well,” Lane said.

Purchased food expenses have increased 56 per cent over the past year, forcing the organizati­on to consider lowering the frequency of client visits.

“We are also considerin­g expanding our hours into the evening for those who are working, so they have better access to us,” Lane added.

Joy Quail, family service worker for Salvation Army Community and Family Services in Dunnville, said that the organizati­on has also faced rising demand. Twenty-two per cent of clients came to the food bank for the first time last year, a jump from 2022, when only nine per cent of clients were new.

The percentage of food bank clients working full-time jobs also rose last year, from three to four per cent.

“We’re probably not up as much as there is need,” said Quail, noting that the organizati­on has limited daytime hours that may limit access for full-time workers.

Other findings

Among its labour statistics, the

Workplace Planning Board of Grand Erie highlights an increase in self-employment, listed as “businesses without employees,” which grew from 15,595 in 2020 to 17,678 last year.

“We saw about 400 new businesses without employees pop up just within the real estate subsector. So there’s certainly a large portion of people that are gravitatin­g towards that work,” Mendes noted.

Self-employment is also trending in agricultur­e, contractin­g and constructi­on.

The results of a 2023 employer survey, included in the report, show that 77 per cent of employers faced difficulty filling certain positions in 2022.

The job market has experience­d a significan­t revamp since then, however, with the threat of a recession leading to lower turnover.

The number of new job postings on Grand Erie Jobs — an online job posting aggregator managed by the workforce planning board — dropped significan­tly in 2023, the report notes. There were roughly 3,500 active job postings on the platform last December, about 1,000 less than the start of 2023.

Employment grew in the servicepro­viding sector last year, notably in education and accommodat­ion/ food services.

The region continues to experience a shortage in many skilled trade occupation­s, but saw an increase in apprentice­ship applicatio­ns last year, including among females.

‘‘ For many people, the wage they are receiving doesn’t really match what is acceptable according to the Ontario Living Wage Network.

WYNONA MENDES RESEARCH LEAD

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