Living wage shows real cost of raising a family

Would lift thousands out of poverty, share prosperity of BC’s economy
September 25, 2008

(Vancouver) A new study calls on major public and private sector employers to pay a living wage that would lift low-income families out of poverty and severe financial stress. A living wage allows lower-income families to avoid having to make impossible choices, such as whether to buy food or heat the house, feed the children or pay the rent.

The living wage calculation includes basic expenses for a two-earner family with two young children (such as housing, childcare, food and transportation), and government taxes, credits, deductions and subsidies. It finds that each parent would need to work full-time at an hourly wage of $16.74 in Metro Vancouver and $16.39 in Greater Victoria in order to pay for necessities, support the healthy development of their children and participate in the social and civil life of their communities.

Working for a Living Wage: Making Paid Work Meet Basic Family Needs in Vancouver and Victoria – 2008 was released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, and the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria (as part of the CCPA/Simon Fraser University Economic Security Project).

“With Statistics Canada data showing that BC has had the highest level of child poverty in Canada for the last five years, it’s clear that not everyone is benefiting from BC’s economy,” says Adrienne Montani, Provincial Coordinator of First Call. “And child poverty is very much about low wages – more than half of BC’s poor children live in families where at least one person has a full-time, full-year job.”

“The living wage is different from the minimum wage, which is the legislated minimum set by the provincial government,” explains Seth Klein, report co-author and CCPA-BC Director. “The living wage calls on employers to meet a higher standard for both their direct staff and major contractors – it reflects what people need to support their families, based on the actual costs of living in a specific community.”

Says Tim Richards, co-author and a senior law instructor at the University of Victoria, “even though the living wage would allow families to escape severe financial stress, it is based on a very modest budget. The living wage does not allow for a family to own their own home, manage a serious family emergency, pay debts, save for retirement or their children’s education.”

“This study shows what families need to earn in order to have a decent quality of life — not merely to survive,” says Jane Worton of the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria. “For those who want to end child poverty, this is where the rubber hits the road.”

“Full-time work shouldn’t keep people in poverty,” says Janice Abbott, Executive Director of Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit that pays a living wage to all its staff. “Employers need to make sure employees aren’t struggling just to get by, unable to spend time with their families, constantly stressed by debt and financial crisis.”

Deborah Littman, study co-author, has worked extensively with London Citizens, a UK group that has successfully lobbied a number of major public and private employers to adopt the living wage. Says Littman, “These employers see the benefits of a living wage. It means less employee turnover, lower absenteeism, improved morale and higher productivity. It also means being able to market themselves as living wage employers — a distinction that is rapidly gaining currency in the UK.”

Although the living wage is not a call for legislation, the study doesn’t let governments off the hook.

“Governments can reduce wage pressures on employers by enhancing the child tax credit for low-income families, bringing in universal child care, reducing public transit costs and increasing affordable housing,” says Klein. “Right now, many government supports designed to assist low-income families are out of reach to working parents because the thresholds are too low. Employers who would find the living wage challenging should urge governments to strengthen the public services and supports that enhance our economic security.”

“If we’re going to end child poverty, a living family wage must be at the core of our strategy,” says Montani. “Employers and governments alike share a responsibility to achieve the living wage.”

The researchers have also provided a living wage calculation guide for other communities, available at


In addition to the authors and spokespeople above, interviews are available with low-wage and living-wage workers, and other community representatives from Vancouver and Victoria. Call Terra Poirier at 604-801-5121 x229 or Sarah Leavitt at 604-801-5121 x233 to arrange.

This study is part of the Economic Security Project, a joint initiative of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Simon Fraser University, and funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The study also received financial support from the United Way of the Lower Mainland.