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Minimum wage going up, but many still below living wage standard: Report

VANCOUVER — The minimum wage may be going up on Saturday, but one third of employed British Columbians are not earning a living wage, show new statistics released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC Office and Living Wage for Families BC.

Despite the June 1 increase to $17.40 per hour, the minimum wage remains over $3 per hour lower than the lowest living wage in BC (currently $20.64 in Dawson Creek). In BC’s largest cities, Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria, the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage is $8 per hour.

The living wage, calculated by CCPA-BC and Living Wage for Families BC, is the hourly rate that each of two parents working full-time must earn to support a family of four based on the actual costs of living in a particular community. It allows for a modest lifestyle without severe financial stress and the ability to participate in the social, civic and cultural lives of their communities.

Data obtained from Statistics Canada reveal that more than 740,000 BC workers earn less than the living wage in their community. Over 400,000 earn less than $20 per hour, which is lower than the lowest living wage anywhere in the province. Specifically:

  • 413,100 BC workers earned less than $20 per hour in 2023 (18 per cent of all employees in the province).

  • The majority of workers earning less than $20 per hour are women, 59 per cent.

  • The majority of workers earning less than $20 per hour are 25 or older (56 per cent), and are not teenagers and young adults as often claimed.

  • More than half of workers earning less than $20 per hour are racialized (52 per cent) although only 38 per cent of employees in BC are racialized.

  • Six per cent of workers earning less than $20 per hour identify as Indigenous. 

“Hundreds of thousands of people will continue to earn less than a living wage even after the minimum wage increase,” says Iglika Ivanova, CCPA-BC senior economist who analyzed the Statistics Canada data.

“The statistics clearly show who these workers are: the majority are over the age of 25, with women and racialized workers disproportionately affected.”

Workers should not have to rely on charity to make ends meet but with sky-high rents, elevated food prices and low wages, increasing numbers of working British Columbians are forced to turn to food and rent banks. 

“In the current affordability crisis, workers are stuck in the gap between the living wage and the minimum wage and face impossible choices—buy groceries or heat the house, keep up with bills or pay the rent on time.” says Anastasia French, Living Wage for Families BC provincial manager.

The result, she explains, can be spiraling debt, constant anxiety and long-term health problems. In many cases it means working long hours, often at multiple jobs, just to pay for basic necessities. 

“The government needs to look at what it can do to both lift wages and make life more affordable for people so that we can close the gap between the minimum and the living wage,” she adds.

The statistics show that low-wage work is widespread across the province with roughly 18 per cent of workers earning less than $20 per hour in most large urban communities with the exception of Nanaimo and Chilliwack-Hope (the Statistics Canada designation) where a larger share of workers earn less than $20 per hour. Greater Victoria is an outlier with a smaller share of workers earning less than $20 per hour.

In BC’s seven economic regions, low-wage work was more prevalent in the Thompson/Okanagan and the Northeast with 20 per cent of workers earning less than $20 an hour. The Kootenays and North Coast/Nechako had the lowest share of low-wage workers with 15 per cent earning under $20 an hour.

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