(File photo)

(File photo)

B.C.’s minimum wage bump won’t alleviate housing or COVID-19 pressures: advocates

Of those earning minimum wage across Canada, 60 per cent are women

  • Jun. 8, 2020 8:00 a.m.

By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

As of June 1, minimum wage workers in the province earn $14.60 an hour, up from $13.85.

But low wages, part-time or precarious work, coupled with low vacancy rates and high rents, are significant drivers of homelessness in the North Island region, said Kristi Schwanicke, co-ordinator of the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness.

“There’s been an increase, but folks who are employed at minimum wage find being able to afford housing in our community, which also has such low vacancy rates, is nearly impossible.”

High rents (60 per cent) and low incomes (57 per cent) were the two most significant barriers to housing, according to people surveyed during Campbell River’s last homeless count.

And of the total homeless population, 12 per cent were employed, while a further 27 per cent were self- or informally employed, Schwanicke noted.

The new hourly minimum is a 75-cent bump, and part of a scheduled increase in the provincial government’s commitment to raise it to $15.20 an hour by next year.

But the wage increase won’t match the rise in rental rates in a market with a 0.4 vacancy rate, and where housing is already out of reach, Schwanicke said, adding the general rule is that shelter costs shouldn’t exceed 30 per cent of a household’s income.

“Especially on the islands (like Quadra and Cortes), which have a high number of vacation rentals, vacancy rates are much too low and rent is much too high for an increase in minimum wage to support people.”

On Quadra Island 40 per cent of renters spend 30 per cent or more of their income on rent. With renters on Cortes Island, that number jumps to 47 per cent.

Campbell River and the surrounding communities need a more diverse range of affordable housing options, even for those earning more than minimum wage, she said.

READ MORE: Minimum wage goes up June 1 in B.C. as businesses face COVID-19 challenges

Of those earning minimum wage across Canada, 60 per cent are women and just over 50 per cent are aged 15 to 24, according to Statistics Canada.

About 33 per cent of minimum wage earners work in the retail sector, with a further 26 per cent employed in accommodation and food services.

Approximately nine per cent of Canada’s workforce earned minimum wage in 2019.

Provincially, Ontario had the highest rate of minimum wage earners at 11 per cent, while B.C.’s minimum earners accounted for seven per cent of all employees.

Quadra resident Sanoah Opie, 17, earns minimum wage and is saving to be able to move out and pursue post-secondary training in Victoria.

Despite her advance efforts, she’s not sure she’ll be able to cover the bills.

“I don’t know how I’ll meet expectations of me moving out,” Opie said.

“I don’t know how I’ll have enough money for food because so much will be going to housing,” she said, adding that’s despite plans to live with roommates.

As a single person, she can’t imagine how anyone with dependents would manage on a minimum wage.

“Maybe if both parents were working, they could raise a family,” she said. “But I don’t think they could do it.”

People working full-time on minimum wage are earning far less than a living wage necessary to cover basic necessities, such as food, housing, transportation, said Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C.

“It’s clearly inadequate,” Ivanova said, adding B.C. has some of the highest living costs in the country, particularly for housing.

“Even the wage of $15 per hour scheduled for next year is lower than the living wage people would need in most communities in B.C,” she said.

A living wage is the hourly amount a family with two parents working full-time to support two children would need, according Living Wage for Families Campaign.

In 2019, the living wage for the Comox Valley was $15.28 per hour, $15.81 in Parksville-Qualicum, and $19.39 in Greater Victoria.

A total of 13.4 per cent of all paid employees in the province were paid less than $15 an hour last year, according B.C. Ministry of Labour data.

Low-wage workers in rural areas or isolated communities, such as north Vancouver Island or on Quadra or Cortes islands, often face even higher costs for food and transportation because they often travel greater distances with fewer public transit options, Ivanova added.

Additionally, workers earning minimum wage were less likely to be working from home thus facing greater health risks during the pandemic, said Ivanova.

Low-wage workers were also more likely to be laid off, or be working jobs during the COVID-19 crisis that put them in direct contact with the public.

“Grocery store workers, cleaners or people working in the restaurants or food service are at increased risk when they go to work,” Ivanova said.

“And when they earn such low wages, it’s profoundly unfair.”

Employees in these sectors were also excluded from the provincial government’s temporary pandemic pay bump for essential workers, she noted.

Health, social services and corrections employees delivering in-person, front-line care during the COVID-19 pandemic were eligible for a $4-an-hour boost over a 16-week period starting on March 15.

But ineligible essential workers getting the new minimum wage would earn almost the same as people eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which the federal government defined as the minimum income people needed to survive the pandemic, Ivanova said.

“I think if you are working full-time, you shouldn’t just barely get to that minimum, you should be able lift yourself above it.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronaviruseconomyMinimum Wage

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A mushroom grower plans to plan new mushrooms in fallen trees in the Kaslo Community Forest. File photo
Kaslo mushroom farmer given green light for unique project

Robin Mercy will plant mushrooms in the Kaslo Community Forest

Nelson dancers Glynis Waring, Slava Doval and Amanda Papailhou, and musician Nella Banner, premier Respired on April 11. Photo: Submitted
New dance work the latest online offering from Capitol Theatre

Local performers will unveil Respired beginning April 11

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

Most Read