The cost of food and housing has caused a significant increase in B.C.’s living wage, says a report from Living Wage for Families BC.
The living wage is the hourly wage needed by two parents working full-time to support a family of four. The rate had been $16.44 but now sits at $20.26 an hour in the Comox Valley, this year’s update report shows.
The minimum wage in B.C. is $15.65.
For the first time, the living wage in Victoria ($24.29) is higher than Vancouver ($24.08). But at $25.56, the town of Golden has the highest living wage in B.C., while the Fraser Valley has the lowest rates, just shy of $19, notes Chris Bate of the Comox Valley Social Planning Society.
“There are various factors,” Bate said. “Daycare subsidies have brought down the daycare costs for families, but those subsidies are not available at every daycare. So in communities like Golden, for example, where there is extremely limited daycare, people have to go outside the subsidized system, so daycare is more expensive.”
Starting Dec. 1, parents will save up to $550 a month for each child they have in a child care centre — a measure that is “really going to help families,” Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard said.
Food — which used to be the third-most expensive item — has become the second-highest cost in most communities behind housing. The price of groceries needed for a family with two young children has spiked this year, according to the latest BC food costing survey data. In the Comox Valley, monthly food costs are $1,230.07, an increase of $259.79 since last year. Social Planning Society president Betty Tate notes a “marked increase in the use of food security programs in the last two years.”
To help alleviate costs, the society continues to campaign for more living wage employers in the Comox Valley. There are 16 at present. The Wayward Distillery in Courtenay is one of them.
“Wayward is committed to providing a living wage to our team and we will do everything we can to continue to do so,” founder/CEO Dave Brimacombe said.
Another is Comox Valley Senior Support, where Bate works.
“We’re above the living wage here, but that living wage is a lot closer to what we’re paying than it was last year,” he said.
Economist Iglika Ivanova, lead author of the report, praises the province for introducing policy changes that improved affordability for families with young children, and offset hikes in food and housing costs, and other essentials. However, savings generated by policies such as child care investments have been wiped out by higher rent and food costs.
There are nearly 400 Living Wage Employers in B.C. but Ivanova said the labour market alone cannot solve all problems of poverty and social exclusion.
“We started taking significant steps in September by capping rent increases,” said Leonard, adding government will be increasing the B.C. family benefit and climate action tax credits in January. She also notes BC Hydro customers will receive a $100 credit for bills.
“I’m pleased we’re moving towards things that are going to help people,” Leonard said. “These are all things that should help mitigate the pain. We live in difficult times on many fronts.”