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Kingston, Ontario: Real work begins as Living Wage Report released
Kingston This Week
Martha Tanner

November 4, 2011
View the Original Article

After months of behind-the-scenes work, the Kingston Community Roundtable on Poverty Reduction launched its Living Wage report last week and is asking Kingstonians to take up the cause.

Written by the Roundtable's Living Wage Working Group and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the report concludes that a family of four, with two parents working full-time, needs a combined before-tax salary of $63,531, or an hourly wage of $16.29 each, to meet an adequate standard of living.

About 65 people attended the launch, held at the Rideau Heights Community Church and featuring keynote speakers Jim Stanford, an economist in the research department of the Canadian Auto Workers, and Don Drummond, former Associate Deputy Minister of Finance and chief economist at TD Bank and current fellow and visiting scholar at Queen's University's School of Policy Studies. Also on the panel was Adele Mercier, a professor of philosophy at Queen's and a Roundtable member.

Stanford, who is also an associate researcher with the CCPA and who helped develop the living wage calculation for Toronto, explained how the living wage for Kingston was calculated, taking into account basic expenses including food, shelter, utilities, transportation, childcare, education, health care and recreation — "nothing luxurious, a basic minimal decent lifestyle".

Stanford and the other speakers stressed that the report is not calling for the living wage to become a mandatory minimum wage or for the minimum wage to be increased to $16.29. Rather, it is a challenge to employers to pay their employees what they need to meet "a socially acceptable basic minimum standard", and to policy makers and governments to gradually increase the minimum wage.

"And it's a challenge to all of us in the community to think about what is required to live a healthy life, to raise a family, to participate fully in society," he continued, "and to think about how many people, at least a third I would guess, who don't have the money to do that. "

In fact, the Living Wage Report for Kingston reveals that almost 35,000 people in Kingston earn less than the minimum wage. Sixteen per cent live below the poverty line and 13 per cent are identified as working poor. The problem is compounded by Kingston's tight housing market, in which there is a growing waiting list for social housing, rents and home prices are soaring and the vacancy rate hovers at just one per cent.

And, since the calculation assumes that both parents are working full-time, year-round, "families with one only parent, or with a parent who cannot work, or which have experienced unemployment, would not be able to meet basic living expenses even at this hourly wage."

The authors of the report conclude: "Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all families in Kingston have the resources that are necessary to raise their children, stay healthy, and fully participate in social and community life. Fighting for a living wage in our community labour market is an important step toward that goal."

To that end, a meeting will be held on Thursday, Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the North Kingston Community Health Centre, 400 Elliott Ave., to form a coalition to make Kingston a living wage community.

Stanford urged everyone to attend.

"The real work begins at the meeting on November 10 to say, 'Let's go and fight for a living wage make sure everyone in Kingston has the right to enjoy a standard of living that we've identified as not remotely luxurious, but decent and healthy'."

A Living Wage for Kingston can be downloaded on the website of the Kingston Community Roundtable on Poverty Reduction.