The West Coast’s living wage has dropped for the first time since it began being calculated in 2015, but not all residents are experiencing the savings.
The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s recently released 2019 living wage calculation is $19.63 per hour, down from 2017’s figure of $20.11.
The provincial government’s efforts to reduce childcare costs are being heralded as the primary cause for decreases in living wages across B.C., though access remains an issue locally.
“The provincial government’s investments in child care have greatly improved affordability and quality of life for families in Clayoquot Sound, however many local families cannot access licensed child care services, including after-school care, due to lack of spaces,” CBT executive director Rebecca Hurwitz said through a media release.
The living wage is calculated based on a family of two parents each working 35 hours a week and two children—ages 4 and 7. The hourly rate represents what each of those parents need to be earning in order to cover their basic expenses.
“The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust calculates the living wage every two years as a means of supporting a vital regional conversation about affordability, quality of life and income inequality,” CBT program coordinator Faye Missar told the Westerly News.
She said the calculation is a helpful tool for identifying and highlighting factors that might be driving the cost of living higher.
“For example, over the last three years, it’s been housing, food and childcare that are the top three local expenses,” she said. “So, we can look at raising awareness around why the cost is so high and what can be done at the different government levels to reduce those costs.”
She said the provincial government’s childcare investments have decreased living wages across B.C., but added that rising housing and food costs have played an integral role in the Tofino-Ucluelet area having the highest living wage in the province this year.
“Of all the communities that undertake a living wage calculation, ours is the highest,” she said. “We were lower than Vancouver and Victoria for the past couple of years, now we surpassed them both, which is largely to do with our housing costs.”
She said West Coast families are saving up to $11,000 a year on childcare costs compared to 2017, but households that don’t require childcare saw their living wage go up.
“This is great for families that have kids in childcare on the West Coast however, for everyone else, we know their living wage has increased and the cost of living is continuing to increase. So, we need to encourage investment in housing and transportation, public transit, food, those types of areas where we can support other family types,” she said. “For different family types, single people, seniors, family households without children or with older children that aren’t in childcare, their cost of living hasn’t decreased… Our living wage would have been $2.84 higher per hour had these provincial childcare investments not been made.”
She said housing costs are a primary concern, with the average rental cost of a three-bedroom unit in Tofino and Ucluelet skyrocketing by nearly 50 per cent since 2017.
“Just for comparison’s sake, in Vancouver, their rental costs went up 7.5 per cent,” she said. “Our rental housing costs are increasing steeply”
Local food costs remain high as well, with the report suggesting West Coasters are spending 12 per cent more for their groceries than their neighbours in Port Alberni. That gap is exacerbated by a lack of accessibility, with only two of the West Coast’s eight communities having adequate access to healthy food, according to the report.
Missar acknowledged that many local employers likely cannot afford to pay their staff the living wage wage, but said they could be strong advocates for change.
“It’s a two pronged approach. Yes, we want more employers to come to the table and pay a living wage but, at the same time, we recognize that because our cost of living is so high that’s a barrier to small business, especially, to step up and commit to pay a living wage to all employees,” she said.
“So, while we’re trying to encourage employers, at the same time the onus is really on levels of government to make good public policy decisions and make investments in areas such as housing, transportation, food and healthcare…I believe that local employers can help to advocate and that they are a really strong voice to government in terms of reducing costs.”