B.C.’s lowest-paid workers don’t earn enough to live on, even the ‘bare bones’


Workers earning minimum wage in much of British Columbia will struggle to afford basic necessities like food and shelter.

In Victoria, the province’s most expensive city, two adults working to support two children should earn at least $24.29 an hour to pay rent, groceries and other major expenses, according to a new analysis by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. Vancouver is a close second at $24.08 per hour.

British Columbia’s minimum wage, the highest in Canada, is well below this threshold at $15.65 an hour.

Both cities have seen their cost of living increase by around 20% compared to last year. Although the study focused only on British Columbia, the researchers said high costs nationally mean Canadians in low-paying jobs will likely face similar gaps between their paycheck and their household bills.

“I think everyone in Canada went to the grocery store this year and was like, ‘How much is this lettuce?’,” said co-author Anastasia French, an activist with Living Wage BC. “We expected it to increase. I didn’t expect it to increase at the rate it increased.”

The increase was largely fueled by rising food prices and housing costs, she said. In Metro Vancouver, food alone costs about $1,114 per month, more than 16% more than last year, an increase attributable to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the change climate and inflation. It is the second highest cost for families after housing, which has also become more expensive over the past year.

The calculation the researchers used to determine a living wage is based on a “minimum” budget which includes food, housing, childcare, medical expenses, telephone and internet, a provident fund, education and a modest amount to participate in community events. It does not cover debt repayments, savings, or “anything beyond minimal recreation, entertainment, or vacation expenses,” the report noted.

The increase would have been even worse if British Columbia hadn’t implemented significant childcare subsidies and reduced provincial health insurance premiums in recent years, Iglika said. Ivanova, senior economist at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.

About 400 B.C. employers have pledged to pay their employees a living wage, but French said that’s not enough. The BC government must do more to help close the gap between the minimum wage and the real costs that people across the province face to survive.

Helping to reduce housing costs is the starting point. This includes building more housing and implementing rent controls, investments that would benefit both families and those without children. French added that efforts to prevent grocers from unfairly profiting from high food prices could also help, as could raising the minimum wage.

In Victoria, the province’s most expensive city, two adults working to support two children should earn at least $24.29 an hour to pay rent, groceries and other major expenses, according to the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.

“This report states that global inflation is increasing the cost of living across the country. Our government continues to build an economy that works for everyone (and) continues to take action to help people make ends meet , and other relief measures are on the way,” BC Labor Minister Harry Bains said in a statement.

Still, with little respite from high prices and no new government policies in sight, French said the next few months are likely to be difficult for many Canadians.

“We’ve all gone to the grocery store this year and seen how much more expensive it is,” she said.

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