The living wage it takes to live in Nelson has gone up six per cent since last year.
Parents need to each earn $20.83 per hour for at least 35 hours every week in order to support a family of four in the city, according to an annual report published this month by Living Wage for Families BC and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The living wage, as it is called, for Nelson is up from $19.56 per hour in 2021.
The authors of the report consider B.C.’s minimum wage of $15.20 per hour to be too little to cover basic family expenses. People who work for minimum wage often face choices between groceries and heating, or between paying bills and paying rent, the report states. They often work multiple jobs that cut into family time and threaten their health.
The living wage is promoted as a more realistic look at what it takes to meet a household’s basic needs.
“It affords a decent but still very modest standard of living, without the extras many take for granted,” Anastasia French, one of the report’s authors, told the Nelson Star.
The Living Wage Report 2022 can be found at https://bit.ly/3tIsYsD.
French said this year’s living wage increase is, not surprisingly, caused by the increased cost of food and housing.
“With general inflation shooting up to a 40-year high this year, and with the cost of food rising even faster and rent increasing everywhere … it’s not surprising to see such big increases this year.”
French said one of the main recommendations of the report is that provincial rent controls (two per cent in 2023) should be tied to the rental property, so a landlord may only raise the rent by two per cent per year even if there is a change of tenant during the year.
Giving large rent increases to new tenants is a common practice in the rental housing market, she said.
“Often if you’ve been in your (rented) home for many years, you’re protected by that cushion of rent control. As soon as you move, you’re suddenly paying 20 per cent more.”
Nelson’s 14th annual Report Card on Homelessness, released in October, showed a 0.5 per cent overall vacancy rate in Nelson’s rental market. The report also concluded that Nelson has the second highest rate of homelessness in the interior of B.C., second only to Quesnel.
Food and childcare
The cost of food went up 17 per cent across the province this year, French said, considerably higher than the inflation rate, and it is not just luxury food items that are affected.
“The bread and butter people need to survive is what’s getting more expensive for people,” French said.
The calculation of the living wage looks at “what is in the grocery basket of low-wage workers, rather than the cost of eating out at restaurants, which hasn’t quite gone up as much as food in grocery stores.”
Child care used to be the second most expensive item in a family budget after housing, but now it is third, because of government investments in families and particularly for child care, especially the BC Affordable Child Care Benefit, French said.
“The cost of child care only went up by one per cent this year, and that’s because of all of that investment. If it wasn’t for government intervention, the living wage would be even higher than it is now.”
French said she wants governments “to take that same commitment and investment and passion that they’ve shown in child care and look at what they can do for housing.”
For each of 20 communities in the province, including Nelson, the report breaks down the basic expenses for a two-parent family with two children, one in daycare and one in school.
For Nelson, this budget amounts to total expenses of $6,824.21 per month or $81,890.57 per year. To meet this budget, the two parents combined would have to match those expenses with income including any government transfers such as child benefits.
Those expenses are clothing, food, shelter, telecommunications, transportation, other household, child care, and non-MSP health costs.
The expenses does not include debt or credit card payments, retirement or education savings, care-giver costs, or anything beyond minimal recreation and entertainment costs.
Details on how the living wage is calculated can be found at https://bit.ly/3XgddGS.
Certified living wage employers
In B.C. there are 380 employers — businesses and non-profit organizations — certified by Living Wage for Families BC as living wage employers.
In Nelson, six employers are certified: Community Futures Central Kootenay, Kootenay Career Development Society, Green Team Solutions, Neighbours United (previously West Kootenay EcoSociety), and the Nelson Community Food Centre.
In Trail, the living wage is $21.13 per hour for 2022, up 16 per cent over last year. In Grand Forks, it’s $20.05, a 17 per cent increase. In Castlegar, the living wage is $20.54. This is Castlegar’s first year calculating a living wage.
Living wage increases in larger centres include Kelowna at $22.88 (up 23.7 per cent from last year), Victoria at $24.29, (up 18.7 per cent) and Metro Vancouver at $24.08 (up 17.3 per cent).
The provincial Fair Wages Commission is studying how to close the gap between minimum and living wages, but French says a report was promised for 2020 and has not been published yet.