Gimme Shelter

August 5, 2010 § 3 Comments

I love Vancouver.   This is my home.  My friends are here, my family is here.  I grew up here, went to school here, met the Husband here.  The Kid was born here.  My whole life is HERE.

So, why can’t I afford to live here?
Enter the lowest minimum wage in Canada and one of the most unaffordable housing markets worldwide.
Welcome to Vancouver.

Earlier this year, the Vancouver Sun tackled the controversial topic of the Living Wage in The real cost of raising a family in Metro Vancouver.  According to the report, Working for Living Wage: Making Paid Work Meet Basic Family Needs in Metro Vancouver, the concept of a Living Wage is based on the principle that full-time work should provide families with a basic level of economic security, not keep them in poverty.   This report (compiled by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in association with the First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition) assessed the 2010 Living Wage for Metro Vancouver at $18.17/hour, up from $16.74/hour in their inaugural 2008 report.

Ontario has the highest minimum wage in the country, at $10.25.  Since 2001, British Columbia’s general minimum wage has remained at $8.00 per hour.  This the lowest minimum wage in Canada, at $0.70 less than the next lowest paying province (Prince Edward Island).  (Quick fun fact: on October 1, 2010, PEI will raise their minimum wage to $9.00/hour.)

Now, $0.70 doesn’t seem like much, but let’s consider a few things, mainly the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Statistics Canada explains that the CPI is “obtained by comparing… the cost of a fixed basket of commodities [unchanging or equivalent quantity and quality] purchased by Canadian consumers in a particular year.”

I picture the CPI as similar to the display at the front of my local grocery store.  There are three grocery carts.  They all contain the same basic items.  Cart #1 shows cost of all of the name-brand groceries at a competitor’s store.  Cart #2 shows the cost of the same name-brand groceries at their store.  (Cart #3 shows the cost of the same groceries as the first two carts, but purchasing the generic store brand.  WAY CHEAPER.  That’s why I shop there.  But we can forget about that third cart for now.)  In the first two carts, there are the exact same items, but different prices. 

This is the Consumer Price Index. 

Basically, you’re filling your “cart” with the same items (food, shelter, household operations/furnishings, clothing/footwear, transportation, health/personal care, recreation/education/reading and even alcoholic beverages/tobacco products) but your bill can be very different depending on where you are shopping.

StatsCan’s last Survey of Household Spending (determined via helpful stuff like the CPI) was released in 2008.  In British Columbia, the average was determined to be $73,120.  PEI was $57,710.  To be fair, I’ll compare apples with apples.  At the time of the survey, BC and PEI actually had the same minimum wage.

Except a household in British Columbia was spending over $15,000 more annually buying the exact same products.  To put that $15,000 in perspective, an hourly rate of $8.00 equates to an annual salary of $16,640.  Before taxes.

Let’s return to the Living Wage Report.  The calculations are based on a family of four with two young children, and presume that both parents are working full time. The parents are both working for just over $33,000 per annum, respectively, and paying just over $13,000 a year for child care.  They have about $1,300 a month to cover rent on their three-bedroom apartment, utilities, telephone, and insurance on home contents.  They share one used car and a two-zone bus pass.  The budget has no wiggle room.  It does not cover items such as: credit card or other debt/interest payments; savings for retirement; or savings for children’s future education.

According to the Demographia, Vancouver has the least affordable housing among 272 cities in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Granted, no one is forcing families to stay in Greater Vancouver. But it is a bitter pill to swallow that we all might have to “choose” to leave.

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§ 3 Responses to Gimme Shelter

  • Amber says:

    Vancouver is also my city, and my husband’s city. Our families live here, and our children were born here.

    We are fortunate to own our own house. Mostly because we don’t live in the city proper, and because we bought it over 7 years ago, and because at the time we were both working in professional jobs. But even in those same professional jobs, we couldn’t afford our house today.

    It makes me concerned for my children. What options will they have here?

  • Hamma says:

    Amber – thanks for the comment! I know exactly what you mean. Often, my husband and I ask ourselves if we should just high-tail it across into Alberta, if only to break what I fear might become a cycle of working poverty for native British Columbians. I don’t know what the answer is… but it’s starting to seem like staying in BC might hurt our family in the long run.

  • […] of ours, my camera and I decided that it would be an excellent idea to try to make some cheddar (Vancouver isn’t getting any cheaper – yowza!), or at the very least build up a portfolio that might help get me in the door to a […]

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