Is there such a thing as a “living wage?” If so what is it?
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
Are Cranbrook and Kimberley “living wage communities? Quite honestly, I’m not sure, but I see Cranbrook is listed on the Living Wage Canada register and I don’t doubt that progressive people in both our fine communities are trying to achieve living wage status.
But, what is a “living wage community?”
According to Living Wage Canada, a living wage is the hourly wage needed to support a household’s basic needs once government transfers have been added to the household’s income and deductions subtracted based on the number of people living in the household and the number of wage earners.
A “living wage” is, therefore, not the same as the minimum wage which is the legal amount employers must pay employees by law which in BC is $10.45 per hour, the lowest minimum wage in Canada. According to Living Wage Canada there are more than 374,000 families and 477,000 full-time wage earners in Canada living below the poverty level, which is nothing to be proud of. Many of these “working poor” hold down several part-time jobs, but still can’t make ends meet or support themselves or their families in a way befitting what’s supposed to be a “First World” country.
That’s nothing to be proud of either.
However, achieving living wage status is not something you can just snap your fingers and achieve. Ask any small businessman trying to make his business profitable and pay himself a “living wage” that his family can live on. It’s not easy and consequently many small business persons pay themselves as little as possible, and in some cases, not at all. But you also have to consider the other side of the equation, namely the employees of these small businesses. If they’re supporting a family and only making the minimum wage, how do they survive? As already mentioned, many of them end up holding down more than one minimum wage job or being regular visitors to the food bank. That’s no fun either, especially when many of them work for large franchise companies that could probably afford to pay more.
Another major factor is where you live. Living Wage Canada has calculated how much a living wage is depending on where you live. In BC, it will come as no surprise that Vancouver is the most expensive place to live with a family of four (parents and two children) needing both parents working at $20.64-an-hour to get by and obviously their living circumstances will be pretty grim considering the obscene real estate prices in Vancouver, which is making it impossible for even working professionals to own a detached house in Lotus Land.
Other BC communities aren’t nearly as high. Kamloops comes in at $17.95 an hour, Prince George $16.90, Kelowna $16.98 and guess who comes in the lowest on the BC living wage list? You guessed it. The Key City of the Kootenays at $14.60. I guess you could call this a mixed blessing because we’re an affordable place to live, but obviously our economy isn’t so great.
The whole issue of a living wage raises many questions, many of them controversial. Is a “living wage” a viable concept to begin with? Obviously a married wage earner with kids can’t support a family in Cranbrook even at $14.60-an-hour if his wife doesn’t work. If the wife does work it becomes possible, but even then you’re looking at child care costs and sliding down a slippery slope. What about all the retired people that go back to work or become consultants taking jobs away from millennials struggling to make a living? Does a 16-year-old
working at a fast food franchise with both his parents also working really need even the minimum wage?
Capitalism doesn’t have an answer for this. Neither does the free market. And no one wants the gulag of communism. All I can say is I wouldn’t want to be the policy guru charged with the task of determining a living wage that’s fair to everyone.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who’s not receiving a living pension as far as he’s concerned.