Jasper’s first-ever living wage has just been revealed to be $24.90 per hour.
That figure, along with those for 16 other communities, was released last week based on calculations by the Alberta Living Wage Network (ALWN). The only community on the list with a higher living wage was Canmore at $38.80 per hour.
A living wage reflects what people must earn to cover the cost of living in their community. Its calculation takes income and employer benefits plus government transfers less premiums and taxes.
“We get different communities together to figure out what makes the most sense,” said Ryan Lacanilao, ALWN co-ordinator.
“Everyone has to agree on it and then we go out and collect the data … community-specific data.”
For the calculation of food costs, for example, Alberta Health Services sent dieticians and trained volunteers into Jasper’s grocery stores with a standardized shopping list that corresponds with the dietary requirements specified in the Canada Food Guide.
The ALWN did the same for rent in Jasper.
There are three basic household types this figure is applied into: a two-parent family with two young children, a single parent family with one child and a single individual. The ALWN’s report says that the annual expenses for those three households are $91,623, $57,210 and $37,551 respectively.
The living wage assumes that each adult is working full-time hours and includes savings for unexpected costs, small investments in continuing education, childcare and a small amount which allows people to participate in the community.
Knowing this number provides a benchmark for everyone, officials included, to understand how expensive it is to live in Jasper.
Mayor Richard Ireland said it will be of great use when making “more targeted and informed decisions at the local level.”
“There are all sorts of things which drive the living wage calculation, and some of those can be impacted by what we do as a municipality,” Ireland said.
“Others can be impacted, of course, by what others do, and that is both other orders of government and employers. Exclusive of those efforts that could be taken by others, we are aware that affordability is an issue in our community. This helps us quantify some things and then target what we do that can bring down the living wage.”
He noted that childcare was an important factor that gets considered for the living wage calculation.
Municipal services, including childcare and public transit, helped to lower the living wage rate in Jasper. Shelter (specifically the cost of electricity), food and transportation drove up our living wage.
The job board at Jasper Employment and Education Centre (JEEC) shows where there might be a growing disparity with people’s ability to make a living. Of the 76 current openings listed, only 12 were clearly at the living wage level or higher while 15 of them had unspecified wages. Some positions were listed with a wage range, so the midpoint was used for this assessment.
According to the 2021 Jasper Labour Force Survey, the “Accommodation and Food Services” sector makes up the largest percentage of the local labour force. It was also the sector that typically offers low wages.
Alberta’s current minimum wage is $15 per hour. That base has not seen an increase since October 2018. Yukon has the highest minimum wage at $16.77 per hour while Saskatchewan sits at the low end at $14 per hour.
Heidi Veluw, JEEC’s executive director, sees some issues with what information went into the report and what did not.
“Many jobs in Jasper are not full-year jobs, so interrupted employment needs to be considered for tourist towns such as Jasper,” Veluw said.
“When the tourist season slows down, the Jasper Employment and Education Centre sees a substantial number of people having their hours reduced 50 per cent or more. Many people are laid off and move out of town or attempt to find other work.”
She noted that a large part of Jasper’s hospitality workforce is comprised of temporary foreign workers. Some of their costs of living such as visa applications are substantial but are not considered in the costs of living for the ALWN’s reporting.
She said considering a living wage might be a part of the solution to both retain the workforce that is needed in Jasper and address the challenges faced by employers, particularly in the hospitality sector.
“It would be great if we can collectively work together as a community to go beyond the stats and work towards equitable employment that meet the living wage of Jasper.”
Lacanilao explained how people often must make sacrifices when they are unable to make a living wage.
“They might not be able to afford to buy healthy food, to upgrade their education, or to buy rec centre membership. They might have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, which means less time and energy to spend with loved ones or on self-care.”
The Jasper Community Team Society is not surprised by the high living wage figure; it sees the increasing need for financial support from its programs, one of which is the annual Santa’s Anonymous, which just launched for the 2023 holiday season.
“It is about ensuring that Jasper community members are not excluded from the joy of receiving a holiday gift due to their financial situation,” said society co-chair Erin Toop.
“Demand for Santa’s Anonymous has increased by 70 per cent between 2018 to 2022. We are expecting well over 300 applicants this year, up from 298 last year.”
The ALWN maintains a list of employers who are committed to providing a living wage to their workers. While there are not any Jasper-based businesses on the list, Banff’s Moraine Lake Bus Company is one of them. Owner and director of operations Jesse Kitteridge said that he uses the Canmore statistic as a suitable stand-in based on the ALWN’s advice.
The management ensured that the total compensation for its staff was at least $32.75 per hour this past summer season.
Next summer, they will ensure the total compensation for staff matches $38.80 per hour as per the Alberta Living Wage for Canmore.
“It’s important to us,” Kitteridge said.
“Paying a living wage also results in us receiving hundreds and hundreds of job applications. When we do hire, I know our staff work really hard for us every day, so it’s important to us that they can not only meet their basic needs, but that they can participate in the community without having to work a second job.”
Editor’s note: The story was updated to clarify that Banff’s Moraine Lake Bus Company paid its staff at least $32.75 per hour this past summer. Next summer, it will be at least $38.80 per hour as per the Alberta Living Wage for Canmore.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Nov 21, 2023 at 11:11