Increasing the minimum wage is a good start to address low-wage poverty in our communities. A mandatory minimum wage of $15 per hour would be an opportunity for the BC government to match the commitment to eradicating low-wage poverty that many employers have made as part of the Living Wage for Families Campaign.
The Living Wage for Families Campaign joins the BC Federation of Labour, Raise the Rates, First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition in calling for a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
The minimum wage is a mandatory minimum set by the Government of BC and should be viewed by policy makers as a government response to addressing low-wage poverty. A minimum wage of $15 per hour would lift an individual worker out of poverty.
The story of child poverty in BC is also a story of low-wage poverty. Over one in three BC children living in poverty live in homes where one parent is working full time, full year. Over half of all children living in poverty in BC live in homes where a parent has worked at least part time or part year.
Parents and other caregivers who work for low wages in BC face impossible choices: buy groceries or cover the cost of transit to and from work. The result is often spiralling debt, constant anxiety and long-term health problems. For many more parents it also means working long hours, often at two or three jobs, just to pay for basic needs. All of which means little time is spent at home, let alone helping children with school work or participating in community activities.
The living wage is a voluntary employer response to address low-wage poverty. The living wage takes into account the basic costs of living (transportation, rent and child care) within a given region. The Living Wage for Families Campaign, together with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC, calculates the living wage in Metro Vancouver to be $20.68 per hour or $37,638 per year. For a two-parent family with two children, this is the estimated annual wage that both parents must make to cover their basic expenses and support healthy development of their children. The living wage is a bare-bones calculation and does not cover expenses that many families take for granted, like saving for their children’s education, repaying debt or purchasing a home.
Employers voluntarily sign on to the Living Wage for Families Campaign and become leaders and advocates against low-wage poverty in their communities by paying a living wage to all their direct and externally contracted staff. Vancity Savings Credit Union, SAP-Vancouver, the City of New Westminster and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations are among the 49 employers across BC who have signed on as living wage employers and who, together, impact the lives of more than 6,500 direct staff and countless contracted staff.
The clearest solution to addressing low-wage poverty is to provide families with enough money to meet their living expenses. This solution is especially compelling given the recent research released by the Broadbent Institute indicating that BC’s median income decreased by 2.4% to $29, 900 from 2006 to 2012. The median income in BC is $6,682 below the income needed by each parent in Metro Vancouver for a family of four to meet their basic living expenses.
Putting money in the pockets of low-wage workers also positively impacts one of the largest drivers of employment: consumer spending. We also know, through looking at more than three decades of information on minimum wage increases, that increasing the minimum wage does not have a negative impact on employment rates.
Many private sector employers and local governments have committed to the simple concept that work should lift you out of poverty, not keep you there. The government of BC should match that commitment to our lowest paid workers through an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.Sign on to the campaign to Fight for $15!
A minimum wage of $15 an hour, paired with a province-wide poverty reduction plan, would be a good start in addressing poverty in our communities.