Calculating a Living Wage in CB (It’s $18.45/Hour)

Living Wages in Nova Scotia 2021 (CCPA-NS report)The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in Nova Scotia has performed its annual public service of crunching the numbers to determine how much a worker must actually earn to live with some modicum of dignity in this province and the answer this year, for Cape Breton, is $18.45/hour.

That’s actually lower than the living wage required in other parts of the province — in Halifax it’s $22.05, in the Annapolis Valley it’s $21.30; in the Southern region it’s $21.03 and in the Northern region it’s $19.20.

But it’s much higher than the minimum wage in Nova Scotia, which now sits at $12.95/per hour. And it’s 4% higher than last year’s wage rate, which Dr. Christine Saulnier, CCPA-NS director and the author of the report — titled, “Living Wages in Nova Scotia 2021: Working for a Living, Not Living to Work” — says is due to:

…a combination of cost increases (in shelter in particular), methodological changes, and because there was little improvement in tax credits or income transfers.

The 2021 living wage follows the Canadian Living Wage Framework and is based on a reference family of four — with two parents working full-time (35 hours) and two children aged 2 and 7. But the report notes that “research shows that there are no significant differences in the hourly living wage rate needed to sufficiently meet the needs of a single adult or a lone parent with one child,” while the hourly late:

…would likely not be enough for some families, such as those with more children or younger children needing more expensive childcare or those with only one adult earner and more than one child.

The living ways goes beyond mere survival, it is calculated:

…to show exactly how much a household must earn to cover all necessities and allow families to enjoy a decent quality of life. The wage is calculated such that the family should be able to avoid severe financial stress, support the healthy development of their children, and participate in the social, civic and cultural lives of their communities.

Standing between many Nova Scotians and this life free of financial stress are numerous obstacles, including low wages, long hours and the high costs of shelter, food and child care.



Digging deeper into the Cape Breton data (which is from 2020), the report shows that average annual income in Cape Breton (a region that includes Cape Breton, Inverness, Victoria and Richmond Counties) is the lowest in the province at $33,579.

The three most expensive items in a Cape Breton family’s monthly budget, in terms of percent of the budget accounted for, are shelter (25%), food (19%) and child care (17%). In other words, these three items make up 60% of the monthly budget.

The absolute monthly costs of all the items in the living wage budget for all five regions are shown in the following table:

Living Wage Monthly Family Budgets, NS Regions, 2020 Costs

Source: CCPA-NS


By way of comparison

Comparing the living wage annual family budget for Cape Breton in 2021 to that for 2020 reveals some interesting (sometimes startling) differences:

Comparing CB Annual Family Living Wage Budgets 2021 to 2020

Source: CCPA-NS

The increase in the price of food is, according to Saulnier, “mainly due to a change in data source” — using the Market Basket Measure (MBM) measure over local data — while 4% of the change is due to inflation.

The second most significant increase, shelter costs (10%) reflects the change in rent for a three-bedroom apartment townhouse in Cape Breton from $999 per month to $1,101.

The author says the decline in child care costs was due to a change in methodology, not to an actual decline in child care costs — which actually increased slightly.

Overall, the total budget increase was 4% to $67,858.63.

But I must note two things: first, as the author acknowledges, the report assumes the family of four is able to find a three-bedroom apartment and adequate child care, neither of which is a given in this province.

And second — and again, this is noted by the author — the final figure is a conservative estimate that doesn’t include credit card or loan payments, retirement savings, life insurance, home ownership costs or costs associated with having a family member with disabilities or serious illness.



“First and foremost, this report is a call for employers to pay a living wage.”

The report says the CCPA-NS intends to support the development of a “living wage employer certification program” to be launched in 2022, following the example of other provinces. This would be a voluntary program for private and public employers who agree to pay a living wage.

But the report also calls on government to address “the cost side of the equation” through “social programs and government investments, and policy changes that would better support work/life balance.” This includes legislating 10 paid sick days and raising the minimum wage “to at least $15” which, the report notes, is what the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) at $2,000 per month worked out to be, based on a 40-hour week.

The report also calls for expanding universal public services based on a “robust, progressive tax system” to alleviate the pressure on this four-member family:

We should be shifting away from regressive forms of taxation (including consumption taxes, government user fees, and property taxes) and towards a more progressive income taxation system. This is the first time since we have been calculating the living wage that there was the introduction of a tax credit specifically for working adults — the Canada Training Benefit.

The living wage calculations show that the more generous government transfers, the lower the private wage needed to cover costs. For example, in 2018 the Halifax wage went down because of the increase in the Canada Child Benefit, which was the case for most living wage rates across the country.

Which is why, the author says:

 Employers should play a proactive role advocating for improvements in universal services and programs, and investments in public infrastructure.

The section outlining what expanded public services might look like is concise but ambitious, calling for more funding for public transportation, affordable housing and local food production, plus the expansion of public healthcare to include pharmacare, dental and mental health supports and (ultimately) free post-secondary education.

I recommend you read the report for yourself; it is only 31 pages long, but it packs a lot of punch into a few pages.


NS Living Wage 2021 Final