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Friday, 22 June 2012 11:28

Medicine Hat tops the list for low-wage workers

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About 9,100 people in Medicine Hat earn less than $15 an hour giving the City the distinction of have the highest percentage of low-wage workers of the seven cities in Alberta.

This is the second year in a row Medicine Hat has made the bottom of the list, compiled by Public Interest Alberta (PIA) using statistics from Statistics Canada.
Those workers equal about 33.7 per cent of the 27,000 employed individuals. Seven thousand of them earn less than $13 an hour.
“I had hopes that we wouldn’t be at the bottom again,” says Alison Van Dyke, Medicine Hat community mobilizer for PIA.
Eight-one per cent of those low-wage workers are also in their prime earning years with 1,300 of them between the ages of 20-24 and 3,500 of them between 25-44. About 2,700 are over the age of 45.
Not a surprise to Van Dyke is that 5,600 (61.5 per cent) are women.
“It’s unfortunate because a lot of people’s perception is that it’s (students) making these low wages. More than 81 per cent of them are in their prime earning years,” points out Van Dyke.
Officials with Public Interest Alberta (PIA) would like to see more Albertans making a living wage, especially in light of these recent statistics which show almost one in four people in the province are working for less than $15 per hour.
One of the solutions to improving these statistics is to increase the province’s minimum wage. Currently minimum wage is set at $9.40 per hour, but it will rise to $9.75 Sept. 1. This will still be the second lowest minimum wage in the country, ahead of only Saskatchewan. Individuals who serve alcohol (most servers) will still only make a minimum of $9.05, as officials believe their wages are made up with tips.
PIA wants government to remediate the formula it uses to calculate minimum wage.
“Studies have shown modest increases in the minimum wage don’t effect employment numbers,” added Van Dyke. “As wages increase so does the money flowing through to businesses. People have more money to spend. If people are barely getting by, they won’t spend money shopping downtown.”
Premier Alison Redford has committed to eliminating child poverty in five years, but most children who live in poverty have a parent who is working full-time at a lower wage.
Increasing minimum wage would help the working poor better be able to afford the necessities.
Too many Albertans are working hard, but are still unable to earn a living wage,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of PIA in a news release. “As the government develops their comprehensive plan to eliminate child poverty in five years, it is imperative that they recognize that low wages negatively impact the health of our communities and economy.”
Van Dyke would like to see residents lobby the government to increase minimum wage more quickly.
“If you’re working full-time you deserve to make more than the poverty line,” she adds.
Milvia Bauman, chair of the Medicine Hat and District Chamber of Commerce, believes the city would fair better on the scale if there were more large-scale industries.
“If you look at all of our jobs and our sectors, we don’t have large corporations,” she says. “We’re largely made up of small businesses who cannot afford to pay large corporation wages.”
She adds economic diversity in the community would help bring up the average wage.
Bauman also pointed out many small businesses are likely paying more than the minimum wage so they can attract and retain their employees.
“There is a need to fix (the wage issue), but not on the backs of small businesses. They can’t afford that ... We need to make sure we can attract larger corporations to our area.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor