By Collin Gallant on September 13, 2018.
A provincial advocacy group is disputing a Chamber of Commerce claim that minimum wage hikes will hurt the Medicine Hat economy and won’t lift people out of poverty.
Officials with Public Interest Alberta said Wednesday that considering the high percentage of low-wage earners in Medicine Hat, the city’s workforce and economy will particularly benefit from an increase on Oct. 1.
Executive director Joel French said it’s “positive” for business groups to make poverty reduction a priority, “but it’s very misguided to say there will be a negative effect on poverty and the local economy because minimum wage is rising.”
This week chamber officials stated they worked with Thrive Medicine Hat to develop a policy calling for the provincial government to halt a planned jump to $15 per hour next month.
The group cites concerns over rising costs to business owners leading to a drop in staffing levels, while suggesting tax changes and other government programs would better alleviate poverty.
“Most experts agree that a multi-pronged and multi-level process is needed to … combat poverty,” the chamber policy reads. “It is) a task that cannot solely be addressed by increases to minimum wage.”
Thrive officials did not respond to an interview request on Wednesday, but the chamber policy closely resembles a report presented with Thrive at its 2017 founding as a continuation of efforts to end homelessness in the city.
Its report only mentions minimum wage twice, mainly as a benchmark for data collection, and favours the concept of basic universal income in laying out 13 areas of focus.
French said a broad approach is required, but wages are an important part of the conversation.
“Income is not the only thing that will solve poverty,” said French. “The Thrive Strategy seems to take into account lots of factors, but one of them is income security.”
PIA, a left-leaning advocacy group, has released an annual low wage report for several years, and has long advocated for higher minimum wage.
A recent report on next month’s increase from $13.60 per hour states that 1 in 6 working Albertans, about 300,000, currently earn less than $15 per hour.
Specific to Medicine Hat, the figure is 1 in 4, with 7,400 workers affected, according to Statistics Canada data, with two thirds women and 80 per cent 20 years of age or older.
“It’s a shocking number,” said French. “In Medicine Hat, a minimum wage increase is more effective there than in any other community to close the wage gap (between men and women).”
The Thrive report claims the local living wage in 2016 for a four-member family with two working parents was $13.65, but only when several thousands of dollars in government assistance programs were factored in.
That also assumes the family has no special needs, and calculations for other scenarios are not included.
A six-year-old PIA study concluded that the local living wage for a two-income home with at least one child was $13 per hour in 2012, while a single parent needed to earn $19 per hour to make ends meet.