September 24th, 2018

Better wages won’t fix poverty: Thrive

By Collin Gallant on September 14, 2018.

A Canadian dollar or loonie is pictured in North Vancouver, on March 5, 2014. Thrive, a local group tasked with ending poverty in Medicine Hat by 2030, says the coming increase to minimum wage in the province will not help bring people out of poverty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward


cgallant@medicinehatnews.com
@CollinGallant

A local poverty action group that has partnered with the Chamber of Commerce says increases to minimum wage should be frozen until a host of other measures and public policy initiatives it is suggesting are enacted.

That is in response to a provincial advocacy group’s critique that not linking higher wages to financial stability is misguided.

Thrive Medicine Hat executive director Karen Danielson told the News Thursday her organization helped open a chamber policy that states the rate should not rise next month to $15.

It continues that any future increase should be tied to inflation, not the concept of living wage, to be “fair” to all regional economies.

“Income is not the only thing that will solve poverty,” said Danielson on Thursday, pointing to her group’s founding report in 2016 that calls for a “holistic” approach, including changes to government support, service delivery, transportation and mental health.

It includes “Income Security” as one of 13 major policy areas, but only mentions minimum wage in passing.

The group is also planning to release a policy paper next week discussing living wage.

In 2016, Thrive considered the local living wage to be $13.65 — about even with current minimum wage — for a two-income family of four. The recent chamber policy says the province’s schedule of increases doesn’t capture regional differences or consider local business conditions, relying on data from major centres, where the cost of living is higher.

The chamber’s position is that the increase in staffing costs will force business owners to reduce staffing levels, leading to an overall negative effect.

“We need to take a regional approach to income thresholds because they are different in each community,” said Danielson. “You can’t just look at minimum wage at solving poverty … You have to talk about more comprehensive ways to address poverty, such as skill-building initiatives, or employment supports.”

This week officials with Public Interest Alberta, an Edmonton-based advocacy group, took issue with the chamber policy, stating it was “misguided” to say higher wages would hurt the economy and do little to help lower income earners.

PIA executive director Joel French said other measures to address causes of poverty are needed, but better wages are an obvious key component in a larger strategy.

He also said since living wage is higher in major centres and northern communities — much higher than the current minimum wage or planned $15 rate — doing nothing leaves many Albertans in financial straights.

“We want people to be living in dignity, not just scraping by,” he said.

His group has found that about one-quarter of the local workforce, 7,400 workers, currently earns less than $15 and will receive at least some increase when it rises from $13.60 on Oct. 1.

Chamber officials told the News they hadn’t read the PIA report and wouldn’t comment.

The Chamber and Thrive are co-sponsoring this year’s Community Foundations’ “Vital Conversations” luncheon regarding poverty on Oct. 4, along with the Medicine Hat Public Library and the Palliser Primary Care Network.

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