2010 living wage shows the real costs of raising a family in Metro Vancouver

May 4, 2010

(Vancouver) $18.17 is the 2010 family living wage, according to a report released today that calculates an hourly wage based on the real costs of raising a family in Vancouver.

Working for a Living Wage 2010: Making Paid Work Meet Basic Family Needs in Metro Vancouver updates the first Metro Vancouver calculation published in 2008, and was released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, and the Metro Vancouver Living Wage for Families Campaign.

The announcement follows last week's news that New Westminster's city council voted unanimously to adopt a living family wage for city and contract employees, making it the first municipality in Canada to do so.

The living wage calculation includes basic expenses (such as housing, child care, food and transportation) for a two-earner family with two young children, as well as government taxes, credits, deductions and subsidies. It finds that each parent would need to work full-time at an hourly wage of $18.17 in Metro Vancouver in order to pay for necessities, support the healthy development of their children and participate in the social and civil life of their communities.

"For six years running, BC has had the highest level of child poverty in the country, which is very much a story about low wages. More than half of poor children in BC have at least one parent working full-time, full-year," says Adrienne Montani of First Call. "A living wage would also enhance the well-being of immigrant families, which are more likely to be in the low-wage work force."

"The living wage is not the same as the minimum wage, which is the legislated minimum set by the provincial government," explains co-author Seth Klein of the CCPA. "The living wage calls directly on employers to meet a higher standard for their direct staff and major contractors. It allows lower-income families to avoid having to make impossible choices, such as whether to buy clothes or heat the house, feed the children or pay the rent."

Co-author Tim Richards points out, however, "The living wage is based on a very modest budget. While it allows families to escape severe financial stress it doesn't allow for home ownership, serious family emergencies, debt payments, saving for retirement or children's post-secondary education."

The 2010 living wage of $18.17 is an increase of $1.43 over the 2008 calculation. What's driving the increase? One factor is the rising cost of food. "Since the initial calculation of the living wage, the cost of nutritious food for a family of four in Metro Vancouver has gone up considerably," says Janice Macdonald of the Dietitians of Canada. "If people cannot afford to buy healthy food then their health suffers and that means we all pay with higher health care costs."

Rent increases are another big driver. According to CMHC, the median rent for a three-bedroom apartment in Vancouver went up about 7.8 per cent over the two years.

"The costs of these essential items that low-income families cannot avoid have increased by more than the general rate of inflation (CPI)," notes Seth Klein.

Child care costs also took a big jump of $113/month over the two years. "In the wake of federal and provincial cuts, child care fees have seen a steep increase, effectively cancelling out what families receive in the federal Universal Child Care Benefit each month," says Susan Harney, chair of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC.

"Child care is the second most expensive item in the living wage family budget calculation (after shelter)," notes Harney. "If we had a publicly-funded universal child care plan, it would be a huge burden lifted off the shoulders of young families struggling to make ends meet."

"Child care is an excellent example of how governments can reduce wage pressures on employers by enhancing public programs," says Klein. "Employers who would find the living wage challenging should urge governments to strengthen the public services and supports that enhance our economic security."

The Living Wage for Families Campaign has designed a Living Wage recognition process, which formally recognizes employers that pay the current living wage to all their staff and main contractors, providing consumers with the first certification process of its kind in BC. A number of organizations have signed up already and many more are considering applying.

One of these is Atira Women's Resources Society (with 150 employees). According to executive director Janice Abbott, "We believe it's just good business practice. Our staff turnover and training costs are low and morale is high. In the end, we are a women's organization – many of our staff are single moms and we know we need to pay them a wage that supports their health and dignity and allows them to provide their children with an environment that promotes healthy childhood development. It is the right thing to do."

A living wage calculation guide for other communities will be available soon at www.policyalternatives.ca. Employers wanting to apply for living wage certification should visit www.livingwageforfamilies.ca.

Working for a Living Wage 2010: Making Paid Work Meet Basic Family Needs in Metro Vancouver may be downloaded at www.policyalternatives.ca.


Call Terra Poirier at 604-801-5121 x229 to arrange an interview with report authors and community spokespeople.