Living wage for Durham calculated at $17 an hour
Region is third GTA community to determine level of income needed for a “reasonable” quality of life
Teacher Ryan Kelly belongs to a union where every member earns a living wage.
But the women who run the cafeteria at the Whitby high school where Kelly taught math and computer science last year make just $11.50 an hour, nowhere near enough to have a decent quality of life, he says. Kelly wants that to change. He wants the Durham District School Board to become a living wage employer and ensure everyone working in area schools — including contract employees like cafeteria staff — earns a living wage.
“Unions are at the forefront of the battle for equity in society and so it is reasonable for us to make this an issue,” said Kelly, who works with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation in Durham. “We don’t want students to see poverty in our own (school) structures.”
Kelly’s quest is getting a boost Thursday when Durham’s social planning council releases a research report that, for the first time, puts a dollar figure on a living wage in the region.
According to the report by Community Development Council Durham, workers need to earn $17 an hour to have a “reasonable” quality of life.
Durham is the third community in the GTA after Toronto and Halton to make the calculation. Peel Region is expected to release its living wage later this year.
Toronto’s living wage in 2015 was calculated at $18.52 an hour. The living wage in Halton was $17.03 in 2013.
As the Durham report notes, the provincially set minimum wage of $11.40 an hour fails to account for the wide variation in cost of living, such as utilities, rent and food, across communities.
“The living wage project aims to close this gap by adjusting for regional differences in critical quality of life measures,” the report says.
Unlike the minimum wage, which barely covers the cost of food, clothing and shelter in many Ontario communities, the living wage also includes the cost of child care, transit, cellphones, recreation, family outings and one modest vacation per year.
Researchers believe these added items are necessary for social inclusion and community participation and lead to a “truly human life.”
“A $17 hourly wage is by no means an extravagant income,” the report notes. “However, it does ensure a reasonable quality of life for workers and their families in Durham Region.”
It does not, however, include the cost of paying off student loans or other household debt or saving for retirement or to buy a house, the report notes.
The report is based on a model developed by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that includes Statistics Canada data along with local focus groups and polling.
The Durham report concludes that a family of four would need an annual combined employment income of $67,261 to afford a modest standard of life.
The calculation is based on a working couple living in Whitby with two children, ages 3 and 7, to reflect the costs of having one child in full-time child care and one in public school.
“A living wage is about making Durham a better place for families and for businesses,” said the report’s author, Georgia Luyt.
The council plans to use the report to encourage area businesses to pay living wages as part of a larger effort to improve the region’s social and economic health, she said.
“There has been a lot of research that shows paying a living wage makes businesses stronger by lowering absenteeism and improving their standing as leaders in the community,” she said.
“A lot of people want to support local businesses, but they want to vote with their dollars by going to businesses that care about their employees.”
Kelly hopes the Durham school board takes up the challenge.
“We look forward to receiving the report from the Durham Community Development Council,” said board spokesperson Terry Simzer. “We will be reviewing its recommendations.”