OP/ED: Is the minimum wage enough?
Families who work for low wages face impossible choices — buy food or heat the house, feed the children or pay the rent. The result can be spiraling debt, constant anxiety and long-term health problems. In many cases it means that the adults in the family are working long hours, often at two or three jobs, just to pay for basic necessities. They have little time to spend with their family, much less to help their children with school work or participate in community activities. Did you know:
- BC has the highest child poverty rate in Canada;
- The majority of BC’s poor children live in families with income from paid work;
- 80% of the factors that affect childhood development improve as family income increases.
What is a Living Wage?
A living wage is not the same as the minimum wage, which is the legal minimum all employers must pay. The living wage is the hourly rate of pay that enables wage earners living in a household to: feed, clothe and provide shelter for their family, promote healthy child development, participate in activities that are an ordinary part of life in the community and avoid the chronic stress of living in poverty. The living wage is calculated based on costs associated with living in a specific community, so living wage amounts will vary across the province.
The living wage is calculated based on the living expenses of a family of four with two children ages four and seven, with both parents working full-time. The intent of the living wage is to ensure that the wage is adequate for single parents and also that it provides an adequate income throughout the life cycle so that young adults will not be discouraged from having children and older workers will have the means to support aging parents. The living wage is a conservative figure, and does not include saving for retirement, owning a home, paying off debts, and saving for children’s future education.
Various communities around BC have started calculating what the Living Wage for their community. The city of Cranbrook recently calculated their living wage as $14.16 per hour. New Westminster BC recently became the first municipality in Canada to pass a Living Wage policy meaning all employees of the municipality would be paid at least a living wage. Esquimault followed soon after.
What can you do?
Seek out further information about the living wage and poverty in your community. Here are some suggestions for resources in BC:
- Residents and businesses in Victoria have launched a Quality of Life Challenge (www.qolchallenge.ca). Folks are working together to generate long-lasting solutions that prevent and reduce poverty in BC’s Capital Region;
- The Living Wage for Families Campaign (www.livingwageforfamilies.ca) is guided by representatives from community organizations and other partners in Metro Vancouver;
- The First Call: BC Child & Youth Advocacy Coalition (www.firstcallbc.org) is a cross-sectoral, non-partisan coalition. The coalition is made up of 90 provincial organizations and 25 mobilized communities.
For action at a more local level, attend a meeting of the social planning group in your community. These folks are participating in initiatives that are addressing community issues, including poverty. In Castlegar, contact Roberta at 250 365-2104. In Nelson, contact Phyllis at 250 352-9640.
The Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-operative was formed in 2003. Its mission is to work to strengthen its members and address issues of social well-being in the Kootenay-Boundary region. The 13 members are all community-based social service organizations and operate in communities located throughout this region. For more information about this Co-operative, visit www.thekoop.ca