By Daniel Tseghay
On April 26th, the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria (CSPC) released their yearly report on the living wage in British Columbia’s capital region. The report finds that the living wage, the amount two income-earning parents who are working full-time with two children, aged 7 and 4, with one going to school and the other in full-time child care, must earn to cover costs in the Greater Victoria area is $20.01 per hour.
While the cost of living has increased in the region by 2.6 per cent per year [“(approximately $151.24/month) from $5,791.19 to $5,942.43,” according to the report], the living wage actually decreased by (admittedly) a single cent from last year. “The reason for that decrease is because the new Canada Child Benefit provides assistance to families who are living on a low income,” says CSPC Research Officer Stefanie Hardman in an interview with Rankandfile.ca of the benefit that was introduced last year. The report also notes “the increase of the maximum amount parents can claim for child care expenses federally which increased from $11,000 in 2015 to $13,000 in 2016.” These important policy changes, according to Hardman, “actually offsets those rising costs.”
While the child benefit moves us in the right direction, more needs to be done. Hardman notes that the two greatest expenses, shelter and childcare, are still significant in Victoria. And currently 16 per cent of children in the region live in households experiencing poverty. Even the model family upon which the CSPC basis their calculations on is putting more than 30 per cent of their income towards shelter, an amount which already exceeds the conventional definition of housing affordability.
According to the report, the median rent for a three-bedroom apartment in the region is $1,550. “Median rent increased $75 from 2016, which amounts to a $900 increase for the year,” says the report. Child care is also incredibly expensive, at $1,284.50 a month, or $15,414.00 a year, which is an increase of $17.83 per month from last year’s cost. Child care, alone, represents 21.6% of the family’s overall household expenses, according to the report.
Hardman also mentions a 2014 Statistics Canada report saying that only 22 per cent of Greater Victoria two-parent families with children had incomes that were less than the living wage.
To better cope with the growing cost of living, the CSPC not only advocates for an increase in wages but calls on employers to provide “extensive health care benefits, and other types of employer benefits like subsidized bus passes”, according to Hardman.
The next step, however, for employers would be to become certified as Living Wage Employers. They would join over 80 companies and organizations across BC which, collectively, employ more than 8,000 people. The CSPC, in partnership with FirstCall BC and the Living Wage for Families Campaign, runs an initiative called the Living Wage Employer Program in the Capital Region which raises awareness about the cost of living in the area, educates employers about how they can make it easier for employees to meet their rising costs, and certifies decent employers as living wage employers. “There may be employers in the region who are already paying their employers a living wage,” says Hardman, “but actually signing on as a certified employer really raises the profile and kind of raises the bar for everyone else.”