Last week, British Columbia’s new NDP government announced that it would follow through with the Liberals’ pledge to increase the minimum wage by 50 cents per hour — up to $11.35 — starting in September. (Liquor servers’ wages will also increase by 50 cents, up to $10.10 per hour.) The B.C. NDP also committed to instituting a $15 minimum wage by 2021. Ontario revealed its own wage plan in May, promising to bring the minimum up to $15 by 2019. Both announcements were victories for labour and anti-poverty groups, which have been advocating for this change for years.
Along with the celebration comes some skepticism, though, as critics question how these raises will pan out for businesses and employers. But how might the pending increases impact the lives of workers subsisting on minimum wage? We asked four women across the country what it’s like to get by on minimum wage right now.
Mary Suzanne Espiritu, 29, Server, Vancouver, $10.23/hr
“Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities to live in. I have a husband and two kids, and I just went back to work from maternity leave. I’m thinking to get one more job next year for me to save enough money and buy our own place. Right now, we’re living and renting with my in-laws for us to save a little bit. It’s hard to live with a minimum wage salary, but tips from serving can help a little bit. An increase of minimum wage to $15 would be awesome — and a big help for my family, because we’re not planning on staying at my in-laws’ forever! We have a growing family, and we need more room. The kids need their own rooms, too. It’s hard to live on minimum wage, especially as prices go up.”
Josephine Taylor, 28, Shift Manager at a fast food chain restaurant, Toronto, $12/hr
“Lots of budgeting and saving goes into my day-to-day routine, and I use my credit card more than I would like to. I work about 35 hours a week and tire very easily because of the nature of my job, so a second job or side-hustle isn’t really plausible for me at this time. I’m all for raising minimum wage, especially for people living in big cities, but I would also hope that it doesn’t mean corporations can raise the prices on products, rendering the minimum wage hike useless. I do have a savings and an RRSP account, but I can really only put the bare minimum into it. I’m single, and very lucky that my parents let me live at home rent-free, but I have to pay for everything else on my own. This has resulted in a lot of saving and scrimping, looking for deals when I can on various things. A higher minimum wage would certainly help me out immensely. I could pay off credit card bills and student loans, still save a little more for my future, and still have money left over to treat myself to a nice trip once a year, or something else.”
Aisha Abdunnur, 21, Member and volunteer at The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Canada, and Sales Associate, Ottawa, $11.40/hr
“I decided to calculate my basic expenses, and I found out I was making $200 less than I need to cover the basics. I’m talking about bare minimum: the monthly bus pass, Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP), the phone bill and groceries for my seven siblings. Hopefully, with the increase, I won’t have to get that second job, because I want to go back to school. I want to be able to contribute to my family. I need that extra time. My mother has credit card debt as well. My brother works minimum wage. We’re all trying to contribute, but the expenses are too much, unfortunately. We pay off the credit card bills and help with the groceries. Little things like that. It’s so tiring and taxing to think, ‘What am I going to do for the bills at the end of the month?’ The raise to $15 will change my life because, hopefully, I won’t be constantly worried. It’s also about basic things like being able to take certain iron supplements and multivitamins. As of right now, I have low iron. Making $15 per hour would be enough to make me comfortable and to be able to afford things like iron supplements.”
Michelle Brake, 23, Sales Associate, Halifax, $10.85/hr
“I am lucky enough to be able to live with my parents in between schooling, so there aren’t too many expenses adding up. This allows me to make ends meet because, unfortunately, where I am the transit system is not the best, so I got a car. Rather than focusing my money towards rent, it goes to car payments, insurance and unexpected repairs. I do have multiple jobs to make ends meet; I always have. It is rare to get on somewhere with 35–40 hours per week. There is usually little chance to save earnings because something always comes up that sucks that savings dry. Plus, you are trying to pay down debt that you have at the same time. From student loans to car loans to credit cards, you can’t get ahead. I definitely think that raising the minimum wage would make a difference in my life. It would allow me to start saving a bit more so that when unexpected surprises happen they don’t make as big of a dent.”
Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity and length.