A new online tool helps families and employers calculate the real cost of getting by
By Steven Sandor | December 7, 2021
How much does a person need to make in order to get by in Edmonton? How much to support a family?
Launched in November, the online living wage calculator helps us put concrete numbers on what it costs to get by in 13 different Alberta communities, including Edmonton. Available on the Living Wage Alberta website, it educates employers on whether what they’re paying is, well, good enough.
“It lets them know if their employees will still have to go to the food bank,” says Franco Savoia, volunteer chair of Alberta Living Wage Network.
Savoia says that an estimated one in four Alberta workers earn the minimum wage.
The calculator takes into account housing costs, the costs of basic goods, transportation and the availability of government subsidies, like the recently expanded provincial childcare subsidy. In fact, when the province expanded the subsidy, it delayed the launch of the wage calculator, because it had such a major impact on the calculations.
“It’s an example of what good policy can do,” says Ryan Lacanilao, the Edmonton-based coordinator of Alberta Living Wage Network.
Lacanilao says the calculations are made using the most recent data possible. Right now, Living Wage Alberta uses the Canadian consumer price index from 2020. But, expect living-wage numbers to shift upward when the organization gets access to the 2021 index, which should take into account the quickly rising costs of food and fuel.
Savoia says that more and more discussions are happening about municipalities mandating that their contractors pay living wages to their workers. When a company or organization pledges to pay living wages, the expectation is that they’ll do business with others who do the same.
And, so far, which are the most expensive of the 13 cities in which to live? Canmore and Fort McMurray are No. 1 and 2. “It shows how the cost of housing affects the living wage,” says Savoia.
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File Your Taxes
Savoia says that the calculator is also a reminder to the working poor that they need to file their tax papers every year. If people don’t file taxes, they “can slip through the cracks.” They can’t qualify for many government programs or childcare benefits. But, he says that many of the working poor don’t file their forms.
The Living Wage Calculator takes into account which government benefits or programs are available, so those not filing their taxes will actually need to make more than the calculator suggests in order to get by. “For a family of four, filing taxes could mean as much as $1,000 in benefits per month,” says Savoia.