A group that calculates a fair living wage in the Northwest Territories’ largest hubs has now attempted a similar exercise for smaller communities.
Historically, working out a living wage for small, isolated NWT communities has been considered too tricky because data is hard to come by and other circumstances, such as available housing types, can be markedly different.
But social justice non-profit Alternatives North – which recently estimated the living wage for Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Smith and Hay River – has now provided a similar study for 19 smaller communities.
Alternatives North stressed the newly published estimates are not formal living wage assessments as not enough data exists to meet the guidance of the Canadian Living Wage Framework, which is ordinarily used to make such calculations.
The wage given for each community imagines a household containing an Indigenous family of two adults and two children.
In March, Alternatives North put the living wage for a parent in a family of four at $23.28 an hour in Yellowknife, $21.32 in Hay River, $22.59 in Inuvik, and $17.81 in Fort Smith.
The new report for smaller communities puts a “reasonable wage” at $17.61 an hour in Fort Providence – the lowest in the territory – and $24.90 an hour in Sachs Harbour, the costliest place to live in the NWT.
In general, the figure is lower in regions with straightforward highway access to the south (the South Slave, Dehcho and Tłı̨chǫ) and higher in the Sahtu and Beaufort Delta.
Alternatives North said its estimates made “conservative spending assumptions” that would, in reality, limit a family’s ability to take part in hobbies like sports or own pets. The estimates also don’t account for expenses like debt repayment, saving for retirement, or accommodating disabilities or dietary requirements.
“The wage estimation approach used in the analysis assumes that both adults in the reference household work full-time,” the non-profit added.
“However, in many small NWT communities, employment opportunities are limited. The proportion of actual couple households where both parents work full-time may be minimal in some communities.
“Therefore, the burden of earning sufficient income – and therefore a higher wage – in order to meet expenses may fall more heavily on one fully employed parent.”
The Northwest Territories’ legislated minimum wage was increased to $15.20 an hour last year.
Alternatives North’s Suzette Montreuil said that despite the report’s limitations, it remained “a valid attempt to offer a useful measure for the communities in the NWT.”
Montreuil said in a statement: “The analysis allows us to say how much people need to earn to cover the basic cost of living in small communities.”