A piece of ripped cardboard with "will wokr for living wage" written on it

Almost half of workers in Nova Scotia aren’t making a living wage, according to the latest report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

A worker in Halifax needs $23.50 an hour to meet the rising cost of living, Christine Saulnier of CCPA-NS concludes in the report. That’s up from $22.05 last year. The figure rose across the rest of Nova Scotia, too: in Cape Breton, the number is $20; in the northern region, $20.40; in the Annapolis Valley, $22.40; and in the southern region, $22.55.

The median hourly wage in Nova Scotia, as of June, is $22.80, but women earn less — $21.75, compared to $24.04 for men.

Minimum wage in the province is $13.35, rising to $13.60 on October 1, and $15 by April 2024.

“Life should not be a constant struggle. Yet, for many Nova Scotians, that is their reality, and the challenge to make ends meet has gotten even tougher this year,” Saulnier wrote in the report’s introduction.

CCPA-NS calculates the living wage based on living expenses for a family of four with children between two and seven.

“The living wage hourly rate would likely not be enough for some families, such as those with more children or younger children needing more expensive childcare or those with only one adult earner and more than one child. A single parent with one child and a full child care subsidy would be covered,” Saulnier wrote.

The “conservative estimate” includes the following expenses: food; clothing and footwear; shelter (including utilities and internet); transportation; child care; health care; contingency or emergency expenses; “parent education;” household expenses; and “social inclusion.”

Increases in the living wage across the province range from 5% in the Annapolis Valley to 8% in Cape Breton, with shelter, food, and child care expenses driving the increase.

Tables from the report outline increases in the living wage for Annapolis Valley, Cape Breton, Halifax, Northern and Southern regions.
Two tables from the report show living wages and budgetary items by region. — Screenshot/CCPA-NS

“We have not seen this level of increase since we started calculating the living wage in 2016,” Saulnier wrote. “The living wages have increased because there were no permanent, substantive increases to government income benefits to offset the rising costs.”

Saulnier calls on private and public sector employers to pay their employees, whether direct or contracted, a living wage.

“Governments should not be contributing to the problem by paying poverty wages,” Saulnier wrote.

And she called for the provincial government to raise the minimum wage, noting the plan to move to $15 by 2024 is “too slow.”

“Raising the minimum helps level the playing field for all employers. As the statutory minimum, a substantial increase to the minimum wage would result in more money in the pockets of Nova Scotia’s massive population of low-paid workers (106,000 workers are earning less than $15 per hour, and around another 102,000 earn between $15 and $20),” Saulnier wrote.

“These workers will spend virtually every dollar they make and stimulate the economy. Strong minimum wage policies reduce the need to use the tax system for redistribution and help stimulate overall purchasing power and aggregate demand.”

Saulnier argues the provincial and federal governments should raise income thresholds for assistance programs like the Canada Child Benefit, Nova Scotia Child Benefit and the NS Affordable Living Tax credit, and reform tax policy generally to ensure the wealthy are paying their fair share.

Governments should also expand public services, Saulnier argued: cheaper, more accessible transit; truly affordable housing and permanent rent control; food security; universal pharmacare, dental care and mental health care; and free post-secondary education.

“Solutions need to address the gap between the costs and needed income by tackling both the income- and the costs-side. Governments can lessen the load on employers’ shoulders by directly providing more income benefits to employees or by investing in lowering the costs for working people. Employers do need to increase their wages, as well as address working conditions, to attract and retain employees,” Saulnier wrote.

“To build a province where everyone can reach their full potential requires employers to do their part and pay wages compatible with supporting workers to enjoy a good quality life.”

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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