In high school I began working various minimum wage retails jobs to save up for my post-secondary education. But when the time came to head into college, having moved out on my own and helped my parents here and there, I still found that I was struggling to make ends meet. Even with the help of resources I was able to access, such as the Calgary food bank, I couldn’t get ahead of my spending because it was all necessary and time constrained. Bills were due at a certain time, rent was due at the end of the month, and I still had barely saved up enough to survive during college without working multiple retail jobs.
During my first year of post-secondary at SAIT, I worked two retail jobs to make ends meet, occasionally having to switch to new ones if the shifts dried up or didn’t fit my new class schedule. I was running from school to work and to home to try and get through my homework, often studying until the early hours of the morning.
It was not until I was fortunate enough to find a part-time position with Norfolk Housing Association that I was able to catch a break and afford some stability. I quit my two retail jobs and found financially I was still better off, because Norfolk paid me a living wage. This gave me more time to focus on school work and more downtime, too. I was even able to start a Tax Free Savings Account, and at least make a small monthly contribution.
Fast forward to 3 months later, and I am proud to say that I have saved enough to even help my parents get much-needed winter tires for their vehicle – something they’ve never had since emigrating to Canada in 2003.
The transition from minimum wage to living wage has greatly affected my life. The security of earning more and having stable, constant hours has touched and improved almost every aspect of my life. My sleep has improved, I have more time to spend on my important relationships, and I experience less physical pain. I also find that I have the option to make better choices with the same budget, knowing that I won’t see a fluctuation in hours or my next pay cheque. Additionally, I am able to put away some money every month into my rainy day fund in the case of an emergency.
So what do I think a living wage really means? A living wage means a mental sense of comfort and security for those who receive it. It strengthens the loyalty one has to their employer, as well as creates indispensable employees who are committed and engaged. I feel fortunate for this change in circumstance, and more so when I consider entire families attempting to live on minimum wage.
By sharing my story, I hope to encourage more employers to consider the immense impact on employee retention, stability, and loyalty alongside the more human aspects of lifting people out of poverty and paying a living wage. We all benefit when we are all lifted up.
Written by Shay Khan
Edited by Cynthia Mazereeuw