Blog | September 17, 2015

By Peggy Revell, Medicine Hat NewsAs part of its annual analysis of low-wage workers, Public Interest Alberta says these workers will be earning an additional $160 per month with the province raising minimum wage by $1 this October.“(Roughly) 362,400 (Albertans) are currently earning $15 or less, which means that number of Albertans over the next three years are going to get a raise because of a minimum wage increase,” said Joel French, PIA’s director of communications and Campaigns. “That’s about 19 per cent of all employed Albertans, so it’s actually a very significant number.”An additional $160 per month will “make a huge difference for a family,” he said. “It can really help them to put food on the table and pay for their basic necessities.”Data for Medicine Hat wasn’t calculated in PIA’s report for this year.In 2014, PIA reported that Medicine Hat has had the highest percentage of low-wage workers out of the seven major Alberta cities, with 13,200 people earning less than $15/hour — 39.8 per cent of all employed people in Medicine Hat. Of those, 60.6 per cent were women. Ninety per cent were over the age of 20— a higher rate than other parts of the province.“The reality of this sort of data is that they aren’t things that change really quickly. We see small changes every year,” said French. “It’s likely that this year the same things are true, particularly given that the numbers were so different (from provincial numbers) last year.”Data PIA used comes from Statistics Canada, and shows 362,400 Albertans (18.9 per cent) earn $15 per hour or less out of a total of 1,915,700 employed Albertans, while 414,100 Albertans earn $16 per hour or less. About 117,500 Albertans earn between $9.20 per hour and $11.20 per hour .Provincially, 62 per cent of low-wage workers are women, with 73,700 earning $11.20 per hour or less.While the “popular myth” is that most low-wage workers are teenagers working their first job in fast food, French said this year’s statistics show almost 80 per cent are at least 20 years old, and almost a quarter are more than 45 years old—and are in their “prime earning years.”The additional $160 per month is based on one full-time job, said French.“Some low-wage workers have to work more than one job because they’re making such a low wage. The increase can be significant for their life.”The increase will also boost the economy, said French, as workers spend almost all their income on basic needs.“So they’re spending the money in their community.”“We do think it’s a positive step in that direction but we’re also well aware that minimum wage is also a small part of what needs to be a comprehensive plan to address poverty in the province. There are other very important issues related to poverty, like housing and mental health and addictions that need to be a part of a bigger plan.”Chamber roundtableWhile the PIA applauds the minimum wage hike, The Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce has over past months raised concerns about the impact it will have on businesses and that it won’t necessarily reduce poverty — instead saying the focus should be on labour force training, provisions to allowing individuals to keep more of their income and other income support measures.The Chamber will be hosting a minimum wage roundtable for its members on Sept. 23 to discuss impact of the increase. Chamber representatives will also be meeting with the Minister of Labour Lori Sigurdson to relay input and feedback from the session.Read the article on Medicine Hat News's website