(File photo)

(File photo)

B.C.’s minimum wage bump won’t alleviate housing or COVID-19 pressures: advocates

Of those earning minimum wage across Canada, 60 per cent are women

  • Jun. 8, 2020 8:00 a.m.

By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

As of June 1, minimum wage workers in the province earn $14.60 an hour, up from $13.85.

But low wages, part-time or precarious work, coupled with low vacancy rates and high rents, are significant drivers of homelessness in the North Island region, said Kristi Schwanicke, co-ordinator of the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness.

“There’s been an increase, but folks who are employed at minimum wage find being able to afford housing in our community, which also has such low vacancy rates, is nearly impossible.”

High rents (60 per cent) and low incomes (57 per cent) were the two most significant barriers to housing, according to people surveyed during Campbell River’s last homeless count.

And of the total homeless population, 12 per cent were employed, while a further 27 per cent were self- or informally employed, Schwanicke noted.

The new hourly minimum is a 75-cent bump, and part of a scheduled increase in the provincial government’s commitment to raise it to $15.20 an hour by next year.

But the wage increase won’t match the rise in rental rates in a market with a 0.4 vacancy rate, and where housing is already out of reach, Schwanicke said, adding the general rule is that shelter costs shouldn’t exceed 30 per cent of a household’s income.

“Especially on the islands (like Quadra and Cortes), which have a high number of vacation rentals, vacancy rates are much too low and rent is much too high for an increase in minimum wage to support people.”

On Quadra Island 40 per cent of renters spend 30 per cent or more of their income on rent. With renters on Cortes Island, that number jumps to 47 per cent.

Campbell River and the surrounding communities need a more diverse range of affordable housing options, even for those earning more than minimum wage, she said.

READ MORE: Minimum wage goes up June 1 in B.C. as businesses face COVID-19 challenges

Of those earning minimum wage across Canada, 60 per cent are women and just over 50 per cent are aged 15 to 24, according to Statistics Canada.

About 33 per cent of minimum wage earners work in the retail sector, with a further 26 per cent employed in accommodation and food services.

Approximately nine per cent of Canada’s workforce earned minimum wage in 2019.

Provincially, Ontario had the highest rate of minimum wage earners at 11 per cent, while B.C.’s minimum earners accounted for seven per cent of all employees.

Quadra resident Sanoah Opie, 17, earns minimum wage and is saving to be able to move out and pursue post-secondary training in Victoria.

Despite her advance efforts, she’s not sure she’ll be able to cover the bills.

“I don’t know how I’ll meet expectations of me moving out,” Opie said.

“I don’t know how I’ll have enough money for food because so much will be going to housing,” she said, adding that’s despite plans to live with roommates.

As a single person, she can’t imagine how anyone with dependents would manage on a minimum wage.

“Maybe if both parents were working, they could raise a family,” she said. “But I don’t think they could do it.”

People working full-time on minimum wage are earning far less than a living wage necessary to cover basic necessities, such as food, housing, transportation, said Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C.

“It’s clearly inadequate,” Ivanova said, adding B.C. has some of the highest living costs in the country, particularly for housing.

“Even the wage of $15 per hour scheduled for next year is lower than the living wage people would need in most communities in B.C,” she said.

A living wage is the hourly amount a family with two parents working full-time to support two children would need, according Living Wage for Families Campaign.

In 2019, the living wage for the Comox Valley was $15.28 per hour, $15.81 in Parksville-Qualicum, and $19.39 in Greater Victoria.

A total of 13.4 per cent of all paid employees in the province were paid less than $15 an hour last year, according B.C. Ministry of Labour data.

Low-wage workers in rural areas or isolated communities, such as north Vancouver Island or on Quadra or Cortes islands, often face even higher costs for food and transportation because they often travel greater distances with fewer public transit options, Ivanova added.

Additionally, workers earning minimum wage were less likely to be working from home thus facing greater health risks during the pandemic, said Ivanova.

Low-wage workers were also more likely to be laid off, or be working jobs during the COVID-19 crisis that put them in direct contact with the public.

“Grocery store workers, cleaners or people working in the restaurants or food service are at increased risk when they go to work,” Ivanova said.

“And when they earn such low wages, it’s profoundly unfair.”

Employees in these sectors were also excluded from the provincial government’s temporary pandemic pay bump for essential workers, she noted.

Health, social services and corrections employees delivering in-person, front-line care during the COVID-19 pandemic were eligible for a $4-an-hour boost over a 16-week period starting on March 15.

But ineligible essential workers getting the new minimum wage would earn almost the same as people eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which the federal government defined as the minimum income people needed to survive the pandemic, Ivanova said.

“I think if you are working full-time, you shouldn’t just barely get to that minimum, you should be able lift yourself above it.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronaviruseconomyMinimum Wage

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A local aerial photographer's drone was stolen from his car Feb. 24. (Kyle Froud photo)
New Vernon business deflated by thieves

Aerial photographer’s drone stolen from car overnight

While the Okanagan Rail Trail remained open, Coldstream parks have been closed for a month now, but could re-open mid-May. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Funds link Okanagan Rail Trail to Predator Ridge

1.3-km section of multi-use trail with a safe crossing under Highway 97

Vernon Fire Rescue Services, BC Ambulance and Vernon North Okanagan RCMP responded to a three-vehicle collision at 32nd Street and 41st Avenue Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Google Maps)
Three vehicles collide on main Vernon road

Extent of injuries unknown at this time; police, ambulance and fire on scene

Several road closures were in effect Jan. 13 due to downed trees, but meanwhile many residents are hoping Lake Country will invest in fixing damaged roads in 2021. (District of Lake Country photo)
Road safety puts Lake Country traffic plans in drive

District funds traffic calming program, and community grant

One person was extricated from a vehicle that rolled off Highway 97 Feb. 25, 2021, near Clerke Road in Coldstream around 2 p.m. (Roger Knox - Vernon Morning Star)
Two hurt in Highway 97 rollover south of Vernon

Ambulance transfers two patients with non-life-threatening injuries

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson in the outfit that got her sent home from school on Feb. 23, 2021
Kamloops-Thompson school district drafts new dress code policy after students sent home

The new policy is being created after a NorKam secondary student was sent home because of what she was wearing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

After nearly 10 months of investigations, Mounties have made an arrest in the tripping of an elderly woman in Burnaby this past April. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Mounties charge suspect for tripping elderly woman near Metrotown in April

32-year-old Hayun Song is accused of causing bodily harm to an 84-year-old using her walker

A local aerial photographer's drone was stolen from his car Feb. 24. (Kyle Froud photo)
New North Okanagan business deflated by thieves

Aerial photographer’s drone stolen from car overnight

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives to view the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Death threats mount against Dr. Bonnie Henry, sparking condemnation from Horgan, Dix

Henry has become a staple on televisions in homes across British Columbia since January 2020

Most Read