Living wage proposal applauded
Sets example: If Vancouver approves mayor’s motion, it will benefit economy as well as families
As living wage advocates, we are delighted to see the City of Vancouver moving forward to become a living wage employer. Mayor Gregor Robertson’s motion on this subject goes to city council on July 7. This leadership move fulfils a promise made by candidates from four civic parties at a pre-election forum hosted by the Metro Vancouver Alliance last October. Members of the Alliance, the Living Wage for Families Campaign, First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, and other supporters will be rallying in front of city hall at 9 a.m. on July 8, the day the motion will be debated, to show our support.
The living wage is the earnings two parents with two young children need to cover their basic family expenses, with both parents working full-time and both making the living wage. In Metro Vancouver the living wage is $20.68 per hour. This calculation by the Living Wage for Families Campaign, is reached by combining hourly pay rates with the dollar value of any employer paid benefits. For example, if those benefits paid for by the employer cost $3 per hour, the living wage is $17.68.
Most employees on city payroll already make this amount. But those few city employees who don’t yet make the living wage, plus the many employees working for city contractors who make less, are likely cheering the mayor’s motion.
We should all be cheering. Why? Because we are all paying for the hidden costs of low wages. High living expenses and low wages mean that tens of thousands of working families are living in poverty in B.C. Our shamefully high child poverty rate of 21 per cent is all about their parents’ low pay. When children live in poverty, or when parents have to work multiple jobs just to stay afloat, our whole society pays the price.
For example, poor nutrition, the constant stress of choosing between food and rent, and living in substandard housing increase all of our health care costs. Low waged parents struggle to support their children’s education and provide them with other opportunities for their growth and development. These preventable costs to our health care and education systems, and from lost productivity, are borne by all of us.
Vancouver’s Healthy City Strategy set some admirable goals which were based on research evidence about poverty and inequality. One goal is to make sure Vancouver’s children have a good start and enjoy a healthy childhood, to ensure their lifelong health. Another goal in the strategy is to reduce poverty by ensuring people’s incomes can cover the basic costs of living. Becoming a living wage employer will make Vancouver, as a large and influential employer, part of the solution.
A living wage commitment by the City of Vancouver sets a model, but does not compel other businesses operating in the city to follow suit.
Regardless, Vancouver businesses should be cheering this initiative and exploring their ability to become a living wage employer too. When low wage workers have more money in their pockets they spend it locally at hairdressers, restaurants and other businesses. This helps to create a healthier local economy and stimulate job creation.
The city’s leadership will help raise the bar for other employers who want to promote a strong local economy and to address poverty and income inequality. It is our hope that more employers, especially large ones, will see the benefits that come with paying living wages — benefits to their employees and their families, benefits to their bottom line through reduced recruitment and retention costs, and benefits for the community in which they operate.
Those who fear that city taxes will increase can be reassured by the experience in New Westminster — a living wage employer since 2011, and where tax increases have not resulted. What did go up as a result was employee morale, civic pride and New Westminster’s status as a leader in the country.
A living wage in Vancouver means a healthier, more inclusive city, and we applaud and support this motion.