Blog | June 13, 2012

Working poor in prime earning years: report

By Vincent McDermott, Fort McMurray TodayWhile thousands of Canadians have found an escape from economic uncertainty in Fort McMurray’s oil rush, a report from Public Interest Alberta suggests that not everyone has found financial fortune in Alberta’s lucrative economy.Citing data gathered from Statistics Canada, the Edmonton-based social advocacy group found that 11,900 residents in the Wood Buffalo region — 16.8% of the region’s total working population — make less than $15 per hour. Approximately 7,800 of those workers earned less than $13 per hour.“The number of low-wage workers in Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo is significantly lower than the provincial average,” said PIA Executive Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon. “However, this doesn’t take into consideration the very high cost of living expenses in that region.”The statistics do not count the province’s unemployed. The Statistics Canada data used is for the calendar year ending March 31, 2012.At the provincial level, the report found that 418,900 Albertans — or 23.8% of all employed Albertans — are earning less than $15 per hour, and 285,600 Albertans — 16.2% of the province’s employed workforce — earns less than $13 per hour.The study also found that 9,100 workers — or 73.5% — in the region are in their prime earning years. Only 21% were found to be between the ages of 20 and 24. Approximately 36.1% are between the ages of 25 and 44, while 19.3% are over the age of 45.“As you can see, the majority of these people are not teenagers working summer or part-time jobs, but people trying to make ends meet,” said Moore-Kilgannon. “What makes these numbers troubling for a place like Fort McMurray is the high cost of living in that region, combined with the importance the oilsands plays in the provincial and national economy. The Fort McMurray region is one of the most important places in Alberta.”The majority of low-wage workers found in the province are women, forming 60.8% of the total 418,900 low-income workers. Approximately 63% of low-wage workers in Wood Buffalo were also found to be women.The report — which was sent to the media Tuesday and is supported by the Alberta College of Social Workers — also examined low-wage statistics in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.Wood Buffalo was included in the report due to the high cost of living in the region. For instance, the region currently boasts the highest rental rates for an apartment in Alberta, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.According to that organization, the average rate this past April was $1,920, a $100 decrease compared to April of last year.“There’s a view of Alberta that our streets are paved with gold and that everyone must be making huge amounts of money out here,” said Moore-Kilgannon. “What the reality of the statistics show though is that close to one in four employed Albertans are struggling to make ends meet, making less than $15 per hour.”The data was released two weeks after the province announced it would raise its minimum wage by $0.35 to $9.75 per hour in September. The increase will make Alberta’s minimum wage the second lowest in Canada, only $0.25 higher than Saskatchewan’s $9.50 per hour.PIA says that wage is too low, and that the average Albertan working full-time needs to earn at least $13 an hour just to reach Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off threshold.“Alberta has 73,000 children living below the low-income cut-off. About 47% of those children have at least one parent working full-time all year. It affects us all,” said Moore-Kilgannon. “A province this wealthy can eliminate poverty. But we have to make sure everyone is at the table and the political will continues beyond making nice statements.”By Vincent McDermott, Fort McMurray Today
vincent.mcdermott@sunmedia.ca

This article was published in Fort McMurray Today on June 13, 2012. Read the full article on the Fort McMurray Today website.