Chasing Vancouver's living wage

Vancouver's living wage is almost double the minimum wage. Where does that leave you? Who gets to live here?

Nickels & dimes (& a few pennies)
"I'm chasin' nickels and dimes..." - Mike Ness

I get by

Do you make twenty bucks an hour? If so, congratulations: you're at the low end of what is considered a livable wage in Vancouver.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the living wage in Vancouver is $19.62 an hour. (This is not to be confused with the legal minimum wage, which is way down there at $10.25 per hour.)

Here's the full report, and it's worth a read; only seven pages written in plain English for the TL;DR set. The gist is this: a family consisting of two parents and two young kids needs two incomes of $19.62 or higher to meet its daily needs wtihout being thrown into financial chaos.

What about single parents of lone children? Turns out this calculation does not scale downward anymore, due to increased costs associated with raising even one child:

In most communities, the living wage is enough for a single parent with one child to get by as well, and this was the case in Vancouver until the 2012 living wage update. Importantly, however, the living wage in 2012 and 2013 is no longer sufficient for a single parent with one child in Metro Vancouver.

The budget cited in this report presumes one used car for our statistical family, as well as a two-zone bus pass; our family can't afford to live centrally.

The budget does, however, allow for contingency expenses and the occasional further-education course, so we can all indulge in that retraining that politicians like to bang on about.

What is the average hourly wage in Vancouver?

It's difficult to pin down the average hourly wage in British Columbia, since we have such a widely-stratified economy. If you work in the primary industries, you're banking the cash like Brinks. Otherwise, not so much.

Overall, Statistics Canada has us earning around  $22 per hour. There's more to the story, though: As of 2012, the average wage in mining was close to $2,000 per week. If you work in forestry, you'd make half of that. If you work in retail, you'd make half that again. Retail, bookkeeping, accounting, and data-entry workers all make below the livable wage.

Seriously, some of these wages are dismal, considering the cost of a takeaway coffee in this city. (I firmly believe that every person in the Lower Mainland is entitled to a fancy coffee now and then: it should be a human right.)

Are real estate costs to blame?

The culprits for this rise are increased child care, transportation, and food costs. This may surprise you, but shelter costs have not, according to CCPA, increased beyond the rate of inflation in 2012 for our average family. This is because our average family rents.

According to the CMHC [citation mine], the median rent of three bedroom apartments in Metro Vancouver remained unchanged at $1,250/month. The consumer price index for utilities (water, fuel and electricity) rose roughly as much as general inflation for the province.

Meanwhile, your average real-estate industry employee is barely making it, too, hovering around the twenty-bucks-an-hour range. A leased Lexus does not a rich person make.

In 2008, the livable wage in Vancouver was $16.39 per hour; that's where Abbotsford is today. To be honest, I would have thought the Fraser Valley would be slightly less pricey. Victoria falls somewhere between the two, landing at $18.73 per hour.

British Columbia has one of the highest overall poverty rates in the country. It ain't rocket science: wages are low and the cost of living is high. All the talk I hear about incubating entrepreneurship in Vancouver seems to skirt the elephant in the room: tech employees would simply make more money in Ontario, or south of the border.

Why do you think Facebook is coming up here? Surely it's easier to lure someone to Silicon Valley if she sees no viable future in the Lower Mainland.

Hey, our child poverty rate has improved, at least: after eight years in the top spot, BC has dropped down to having the second-highest rate of child poverty in Canada. It's a start, one supposes.

Widening gap

So, the adjusted livable wage is up 2.5% from last year. In terms of earning power, we are not keeping up.

Overall, hourly wages in British Columbia only rose by around 1.5% since last year... and closer to 1% if you happen to be a woman.

This is a worrying trend, suggesting that a balanced life is escaping our grasp even if we try to live within our means. This livability problem complicates our prospects when it comes to economic growth: to keep skilled workers in Vancouver, we have to make it possible for them to have a real future here: it doesn't even have to be a new house on a new hill, just some money left over for the RRSP.

The statistics dropped by the CCPA raise the same question as the development and gentrification debate: Who gets to live in Vancouver?

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