St. Albert workers must make at least $23.80 per hour to cover their basic expenses and have a modest standard of living, according to a new report from the Alberta Living Wage Network (ALWN).
The price of living in St. Albert rose $1.40 since last year’s ALWN report and is now over $8 more than Alberta’s $15 minimum wage — the lowest minimum wage of Canada’s four largest provinces.
St. Albert’s living wage is the fourth highest in the province and was outdone only by Canmore ($38.80); Jasper ($24.90); and Fort McMurray ($24.50).
“I don’t think it’s any big surprise to anyone,” said Mayor Cathy Heron. “Cost of food is up across the province. That’s a contributing factor to everyone’s increase … but St. Albert also has a lack of affordable housing options. We need to increase the rental pool here and allow for some affordable condos or townhouses.”
Heron said changes to the city’s land-use bylaw to allow for denser developments will help drive down the cost of living, but it takes time for developers to build.
Council and the city should be aggressively pushing for more rental units and affordable housing, she said.
“I really want my residents to understand that if their kids want to stay living here, then they’re going to have to allow for more diversity in the community. We can’t just be a community of white picket fence single-family homes anymore.”
Heron gave no indication the high living wage would influence the city’s draft budget proposals, such as the 5.5 per cent property tax hike or the 7.2 per cent utility fee increase.
“I don’t think property taxes are a significant contributor,” she said. “A lot of the stuff in the budget is actually going to help people who are struggling.”
For residents living on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), dealing with basic expenses is a struggle and means making sacrifices, according to Carmen Horpestad, executive director of the LoSeCa foundation, which supports adults with disabilities.
AISH provides a maximum living allowance of $1,787 per month, which amounts to roughly $12.75 per hour for someone working 35 hours a week.
“They get by going to the food bank if they need to, asking family for help, not doing activities they enjoy to save money,” Horpestad said in an email.
But it’s not only people living on AISH who are struggling.
“Fifty per cent of our employees have a second job, and the increased cost of living is a big reason for this,” Horpestad said.
The Government of Alberta increased community support worker wages at the beginning of 2023, but caregivers across the province are still campaigning for a 10 per cent wage hike.
Most caregivers at LoSeCa working a second job are doing additional support work, Horpestad said.
It costs more to live in St. Albert than any of the province’s three largest cities: Calgary ($23.70), Edmonton ($22.25) and Red Deer ($18.75), according to the ALWN report.
Medicine Hat had the lowest living wage at $17.35. It was followed by Red Deer and then Brooks ($19.05).
The analysis included 16 municipalities across the province.
According to the Alberta Living Wage Network’s website, the calculation is based on “the income needs of three household types: a two-parent family with two young children; a lone-parent family with one child; and a single individual.”
“It assumes that each adult is working full-time hours and includes savings for unexpected costs, continuing education, child care, and a small amount which allows people to participate in the community.”