Anastasia Kircheva has always been a lover of the arts. She is fascinated by the hands-on process and getting to meet so many fascinating people through her craft. That is why the financial risks of pursuing a career in photography never deterred her.
“I enjoy what art has to offer to society and vice versa,” Kircheva says. “And yes, I get questions of, ‘How can you make money? You’re just an artist. Aren’t you poor forever?’ But I think you make what you want it to be.”
Kircheva moved to Calgary from Bulgaria in 2009 in hopes of a better future. There was little support from the Bulgarian government and her family did not have enough money to live a comfortable life.
Today, Kircheva is a graduate of the Alberta College of Arts and Design. She works full-time at Massage Heights while she tries to get her freelance photography business off the ground.
Even though Kircheva earns minimum wage, the Oct. 1, 2018 increase puts her one step closer to achieving her dreams.
She began photography in the summer of 2017 and since then her clientele has expanded from a few friends to a multitude of different people and businesses.
It was a slow process to grow her business, both competition and financial costs, which is why she works full-time at minimum wage.
A common misconception about minimum wage is that it is for teenagers, when according to Statistics Canada, they account for only 30 per cent of minimum wage earners in Calgary.
Anyone regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity could be earning minimum wage.
40 per cent of minimum wage earners in Calgary are parents and over 18,000 are single parents. The $1.40 increase for Alberta seems like a drastic step, but it still leaves it under the cost to live in Calgary. The actual living wage in Alberta, according to Living Wage Canada, is $18.15 an hour.
What does that mean for minimum wage earners?
Yvonne Schmitz of the Calgary Social Workers for Social Justice explains that when people don’t earn enough to live, they are forced to rely on food banks and charities just to get by. Schmitz says the increase will be able to provide more practical amenities of life.
“Not having to struggle to pay rent, not having to go to the food bank at the end of the month,” she says.
“Even just to be able to buy new clothes or do something in terms of entertainment, like going to the movies, because even if these people are working full time, if they are getting under fifteen dollars an hour, they’re not getting a fair shake.”
For Kircheva, the raise provides a safety net.
She lives with her husband, who is away in China for business, in a house they both make mortgage payments on. They both have cars and Kircheva is responsible for the upkeep of her camera equipment and studio.
Kircheva is already in debt.
She’s always been mindful with her spending, but the wage increase is able to lift a bit of that weight off of her shoulders, giving her more incentive to move forward with her photography.
“I’m very driven and very self-motivated.” she says,“And other people might not see it yet, but I do see how much my business has progressed and I think that the progress will keep me going forward to become more successful later on.”
Alberta’s minimum went from $9.75 five years ago to the highest in Canada. Opinions about the increase vary — comments on a recent CBC article posted to Facebook make that much clear — but to this, Schmitz and Kircheva are on the same page.
“If you cannot afford to pay your workers enough to live on, should you really be in business?” says Schmitz.
“If it is going to cost you more to provide these services then it’s only fair you increase your prices because you know people should want to pay a fair amount for whatever services they’re getting so that employees are being paid fairly.”
“I’ve seen where employees are underpaid.” says Kircheva, “Oftentimes I hear, ‘Oh, why should I do this? I’m not paid enough.’ That is the mentality employees will have and it will reflect in their business.”
Overall, Schmitz believes that the increase will have a positive effect on lowering the poverty rate. She also says that the increase could actually benefit the community.
“People who are earning low wages are spending all their money in the local community. They’re not the ones who can afford to go travelling so they’re putting money into the basics.”
In an ideal world and economy, Schmitz and Kircheva imagine the minimum wage being on par with the living wage, or perhaps higher.
“I don’t know when this will happen.” Kircheva admits, “It may happen millions of years from now, maybe in 10 years, or maybe it will happen in five. But you don’t have to be slaving away all the time. You can still have fun. You can go for vacations, see movies, you can go to the coffee shop. Enjoy your life.”
- By Kendall Bistretzan