Living wage gives boost to staff struggling to make a living; More employers committing to pay workers enough to meet basic needs

Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun

Alejandra Moya was pleasantly surprised when she found out she was to receive a $3-an-hour raise when the company she works for became a living wage employer. Moya, a shipper-receiver at software firm SAP Canada in Vancouver, said the raise makes quite a difference for her family, which includes herself, her husband and a 2-year-old child.

Moya’s family now makes more than the living wage for Metro Vancouver, which is $19.14 per hour based on two parents each working full-time, according to the 2012 report released earlier this year. The study was done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, and the Metro Vancouver Living Wage for Families Campaign.

The living wage is the hourly rate at which a family with two full-time earners and two young children can meet its basic needs. Moya’s husband also works full-time, so the family is above the minimum.

“Everybody has unexpected expenses and this helped me cover these expenses,” Moya said.

North Delta’s Bob Mulholland supports his family of five with his job earning about $19 an hour at his job as a customer service manager at FundRazr, a crowd-funding application that works with Facebook.

Because his wife is a stay-at-home mom, the family is living on just half of what would be considered a living wage. He’s not alone; according to estimates, between 25 per cent and 41 per cent of families with children in Metro Vancouver earn less than a living wage.

Although Mulholland’s family is living on much less than the living wage, they manage with a lot of discipline….

So far, 26 employers covering about 5,000 workers in Metro Vancouver have signed on to become living wage employers, and some municipalities have also registered to pay their employees and contracted staff a living wage. New Westminster was the first municipality in Canada to join the program, and the City of North Vancouver is investigating the possibility as well as about four other municipalities, McCarthy Flynn said. In many cases the employees already earn a living wage, but the contracted services, such as security guards or traffic flaggers, earn wages significantly under $19 an hour.

The First Call living wage is based on a budget that includes $759 a month for food for a family of four and $1,436 a month for shelter that includes rent on a three-bedroom apartment, utilities, telephone and insurance on home contents.

Both Mulholland and Moya said the food budget is close to what their families spend, but the rent budget is not even close to what it really costs to house a family in the Lower Mainland.

“We pay $1,750 for rent, plus phone and utilities. After bills we’re looking at about $2,200 to $2,400 per month depending on gas and hydro use,” Mulholland said.

Moya said her family pays $1,600 a month for rent, and when all the utilities are factored in, her shelter costs are at least $2,000, significantly above the $1,436 allocated by First Call….

The living wage calculation for a family of four includes monthly expenses of $183 for clothing and shoes, $468 for transportation, $1,168 for child care, $128 for the medical services plan, $133 for extended medical and dental, $91 for education, $223 for emergency fund savings and $669 a month for other expenses such as personal care, furniture, household supplies, school supplies, some reading materials, minimal recreation and entertainment.

Shelter and child care costs are the expenses that are most rapidly rising, while child care subsidies have been frozen for several years, said Iglika Ivanova, co-author of the report and economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Michael McCarthy Flynn, the living wage campaign organizer for First Call: BC Child & Youth Advocacy Coalition, said there are three significant benefits for families who begin to make a living wage: more quality time together if each parent only works one job instead of two, the ability to pay off debt and the possibility of paying for training or education so they can get an even better job.

Some policy changes reduce the living wage over time. For instance, the introduction of the U-Pass for students in all publicly funded post-secondary institutions in B.C. as of September 2010 reduced monthly transportation costs by $28. Another example is universal child care; when child care was available for $7 a day, the living wage went down by $3 an hour, McCarthy Flynn said…

“It’s one thing to create a job, but it’s another to create a job that can afford someone a better quality of life.”

Read online