Is the Minimum Enough? Affordability of a Nutritious Diet for Minimum Wage Earners in Nova Scotia (2002-2012)

By Newell, Felicia D.; Williams, Patricia L. et al. | Canadian Journal of Public Health, May/June 2014 | Go to article overview

Is the Minimum Enough? Affordability of a Nutritious Diet for Minimum Wage Earners in Nova Scotia (2002-2012)


Newell, Felicia D., Williams, Patricia L., Watt, Cynthia G., Canadian Journal of Public Health


Food insecurity is "the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so."1 It is a social determinant of health2,3 and a serious public health problem with negative and long-lasting impacts on health and well-being.3-7 Food insecurity represents deprivation in terms of access to enough nutritious food to maintain good health, increasing risk of dietary inadequacy,5 psychosocial problems4 and chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.6,7

At least 1.7 million households in Canada (12.5%) experienced some level of food insecurity due to financial constraints in 2012, a significant increase since 2008.8 Since 2005, when household food insecurity started to be monitored on a consistent basis in Canada, Nova Scotia (NS) has reported some of the highest rates of all Canadian provinces, with 17.5% of all households reporting some level of food insecurity in 2012.8 Although many factors may contribute to household food insecurity, including lack of transportation, food knowledge and skills, and social supports,3,9 income remains the most significant determinant of food access and hunger in Canada.3 In 2012, 45.3% of Canadian households with incomes under half the low income measure* were food insecure.8

Previously, we examined the adequacy of minimum wage in NS using food costing data from 2002 projecting forward to 2006 and found that individuals working for minimum wage in NS were likely unable to afford a nutritious diet assuming their other essential needs were met.10 As a result of recommendations by a Minimum Wage Review Committee, the NS government has steadily increased the minimum wage, with the most recent increase to $10.40/hr in April 2014. It is not clear whether these increases, along with the introduction of the Working Income Tax Benefit11 and Affordable Living Tax Credit,12 which were initiated in 2007 and 2010, respectively, have improved the ability of households reliant on minimum wage earnings to meet their basic needs including a nutritious diet. However, rates of food insecurity among households whose main source of income was wages and salaries was 11.2%, representing 62.2% and 65% of food-insecure households in Canada and NS, respectively.8 With a 79% increase in the minimum wage in NS between 2002 and 2012, along with an increase in the proportion of Nova Scotians working for minimum wage between 2000 and 2009, the third highest (6.8%) of all the provinces,13 there is a need to examine the affordability of a nutritious diet for minimum wage earners in NS. The aim of this paper was to estimate the financial gap that remains for selected hypothetical household scenarios earning minimum wage from 2002 to 2012 in NS by contrasting estimated monthly incomes against basic, essential monthly expenses using various secondary data sources, including the cost of a basic nutritious food basket.

METHODS

To assess the affordability of a nutritious diet for households earning minimum wage in NS from 2002 to 2012, we used an economic simulation that includes food costing and secondary data. Scenarios were created representing three households that may be relying on minimum wage earnings in NS: a household of four; a lone mother with three children; and a lone man. These household types were selected based on evidence that most minimum wage earners are below 25 years of age, women are over-represented in the group of sole family earners,14 and just under half of children living in poverty have at least one full- time wage earner in the household.15 Consistent with published food costing research,10,16,17 estimated monthly costs for shelter, power, child care and other expenses were subtracted from estimated monthly after-tax income including wages, GST credits and child tax benefits, to determine what funds, if any, were left to purchase the National Nutritious Food Basket (NNFB). …

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