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Report: $17/hr wage needed to live in Durham Region

Georgia Luyt, a community developer with the Community Development Council of Durham, speaks at an event marking the release of the group’s report on a living wage in Durham Region. The report finds that in order for a family to live comfortably in the area, both parents need to make at least $17 per hour.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The cost of living in Durham Region is going up, and a recent study has found that making minimum wage just won’t cut it.

According to a recently released report from the Community Development Council of Durham (CDCD), for a family to have a decent quality of life, both parents would need to make at least $17 per hour.

That number was derived following months of study by the group and takes into account a family of four, with both children under the age of 8. This wage would allow the family to have “a decent quality of life by providing for basic needs like healthy food, medical insurance, one modest camping vacation per year and Internet access so the family can stay connected,” a news release on the report reads.

According to the report, this model family of four would bring in a combined income of approximately $67,000, with the largest expense – more than $18,000 – going towards childcare.

Georgia Luyt, a community developer with CDCD, says that the current minimum wage in Ontario – $11.40 per hour – does not do enough to provide a good quality of life, and that conversations need to be had with employers on implementing a living wage that better reflects the costs of living in the area.

“It is just the beginning. We do want to start talking to employers about what that $17 an hour would mean for them, talking to the community about what a $17 living wage means for them, and we really want to start talking about what it means to have a good quality of life in Durham,” she tells The Oshawa Express.

“We have had some interest from a few employers who heard that we were doing this calculation and wanted to know what the next step might be.”

Elizabeth Cullen Keidann, a public health nurse with the Region of Durham, says that providing a good quality of life for children is important as it helps lift them out of poverty, adding that those born into poverty are more likely to stay there.

She adds that living in poverty can lead to various health and social problems down the road for these children.

“When children don’t have a good start, when they don’t do well early on, the domino effect throughout life, we can see the effects on their health,” she says.

“In their teen years, youth in low income families are more likely to experience failure in school, teen pregnancy, criminality, getting involved in substance abuse and also anxiety disorders. And low income itself is a risk factor for several chronic diseases, like obesity, elevated blood pressure, depression, diabetes, renal disease and arthritis.”

Cullen Keidann adds that, according to the region’s Health Neighbourhoods study in 2015, the seven priority neighbourhoods identified as having the most poverty in Durham contain about 15 per cent of the population, but have a disproportionate amount of health and social issues, including 41 per cent of the region’s Hepatitis C cases and 21 per cent of cardiovascular health problems for those under the age of retirement.

One of the criticisms often levied against those wanting to raise wages this much is that it would result in goods becoming more expensive, thus bad for the economy.

Luyt doesn’t buy that.

“That’s not what we found in communities that have adopted living wages,” she says.

“What we found is that it actually benefited local businesses because employees are able to go down the street during a break and have a cup of coffee when they couldn’t do that previously. They’re able to take their kids to activities and able to go on vacations, go out for a dinner each month. We actually found it improves the local economy that way.”

Studies have backed up Luyt’s views. A 2016 report from UC Berkeley found that under New York’s plan to increase the state’s minimum wage by 2021 would have a minimal effect on prices, saying that the wage increase could lead to a 0.2 per cent annual price increase, well below the inflation rate of two per cent seen in the state in recent years. The report also notes that businesses will likely experience lower employee turnover rates, which would save costs for recruitment and retention.