Minimum wage isn’t a living wage — anywhere

by | Nov 6, 2014 | News

By Vanessa Campbell

Toronto is quickly becoming one of the most expensive cities to live in. After a 75-cent hike in June, minimum wage in Ontario now sits at $11 an hour. While most would say that full-time work for that wage is not enough, those living off of it in more expensive cities are surviving on less…but not by much.

Although neither Toronto nor Vancouver made the list of most expensive cities in the world, they were top two in the country, according to an annual survey by Mercer.

London and New York can be found on the majority, if not all, of lists of the most expensive cities in the world.

Danni Kemp, 25, a full-time live-in nanny from London said she can attest to that. While London has been listed many times as one of the wealthiest cities in the world, it is also one of the most expensive to live in, making it the least affordable for the average middle-class citizen. With minimum wage at £8 ($14.73 Cdn) per hour and the average cost of a one-bedroom flat at £700 (about $1,266 Cdn) per month, not much is left over for other living expenses.

“I would not be able to live in London on my own if I was renting out a house. No chance,” said Kemp.

She also said that there are people who live in London and make minimum wage but the living conditions are very different.

“I know a few people who work in bars and shops but they share a house. There are usually about three to five people who share a house. It is very common,” said Kemp.

Fortunately, the United Kingdom has a number of public assistance programs. The same can’t be said for the similarly pricy New York City. With its minimum wage roughly matching London’s, the average one-bedroom rental doesn’t exactly size up. Depending on whether or not you live in the city centre, monthly rates for a one-bedroom apartment can range anywhere between $1,350 (outside of the city centre) to $3,500 a month.

Ashley Duchemin, 23, student and lifelong resident of New York City, said that she has always worked for over minimum wage but found even that challenging to survive off of.

“It’s not comfortable to live even above minimum wage. I have no idea how anyone could survive off that without public assistance. The rent is rising because of gentrification, too,” said Duchemin.

Finding rent for less than the average rate in New York is possible but not in Manhattan. Duchemin said she was able to find places for $500 a month, not including utilities, in areas like the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. To achieve that though, she said she had to work “crazy hours.”

“I’ve never even considered any jobs that were minimum wage. I’ve always started at 75 cents more, at least,” said Duchemin

When it comes to finding jobs that pay more than minimum wage, Duchemin said that it has a lot to do with who one knows and how well they can sell themselves in an interview. She also said jobs that pay minimum wage in New York do exist and she thinks there should be a better effort made in informing the community about those opportunities with proper training to match.

In Ontario, the minimum wage varies for those in the service industry. While minimum wage for most jobs is $11 per hour, servers and bartenders can expect to start at $9.55 an hour.

Cora Christian, 22, works full time as a server at Shoeless Joe’s and relies heavily on tips. The biggest challenge she faces as a server is that tips aren’t always guaranteed as they fluctuate based on the time of year.

“Now that everyone’s at school, there are hours in my shift where I’m not making any money at all.”

Sharing a cozy one-bedroom apartment with her boyfriend in the Jane Street and Finch Avenue area, Christian said she’s been trying to move into a nicer area but she simply cannot afford it.

“There are places downtown for prices I can afford but the size of the units are the size of the bedroom I have now. It’s just not worth it.”

Being a relatively young city, Torontonians don’t have to worry about the cost of rent (yet) and buying a home is still a possibility for the average middle class worker, but not for long. Today, the average price for a home in Toronto is somewhere around $600,000 and not only is it small, but it’s not in an ideal location.

Living outside of the city centre for someone who makes minimum wage is doable. However, should one ever want to move into the downtown core, they’d be looking at rates just over the $1,000 mark and that would mean one of two things: finding a higher-paying job or warming up to the idea of a roommate.