The spiralling cost of food and housing are the drivers behind a 23.7 per cent increase in the living wage for Kelowna, according to the Living Wage Update report.
Anastasia French, Living Wage for Families provincial manager and co-author of the study funded by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the Kelowna living wage is now calculated at $22.88 an hour.
That wage is based on a two-parent family with two children and each parent working full-time, and what it costs for basic living expenses such as food, clothing, rental housing, child care, transportation and small savings to cover illness or emergencies.
“For Kelowna that is based on a 17 per cent increase in the cost of groceries and rental rate that have gone up more than 20 per cent,” said French.
“We expected to see a living wage increase because of inflation but a ($4.39) increase for Kelowna is the largest percentage we have ever seen from year to year.”
In comparison, Victoria saw an increase up to $24.29, a 19 per cent jump over last year, and Metro Vancouver at $24.08, a 17.3 per cent increase.
Other living wage communities include Golden now at $25.56, Kamloops at $19.14, Prince George at $21.19, Grand Forks at $20.05 and Nanaimo at $20.49.
French says food used to be the third-highest cost for families, but it edged ahead of second place child care affordability after the province made investments in 2018 that reduced out-of-pocket child care costs for families.
While solutions to rising food costs are complicated by global economic conditions and the impact of climate change on agriculture, French says the government can play a role in addressing the rental rate crisis.
“There are controls for how much landlords can increase rents from tenants year to year, but eviction rentals are a problem because if a renter is evicted, the rent can be increased with no limits for the next tenant,” said French, adding that makes life more difficult for single mothers, Indigenous people and recent immigrants.
She says rental hikes should be tied to the unit rather than the individual renter, limiting the rent increase yearly to the maximum of two per cent currently allowed regardless of a change in tenants.
In Kelowna, she says two- and three-bedroom rentals have increased in cost at a higher rate than studio or one-bedroom units, a further indication of how hard it is for low-income families to find stable and affordable housing.
She said affordable housing projects initiated by BC Housing coupled with benefits like child care subsidies and the proposed national dental coverage plan can make life more affordable for those earning below a living wage.
As can further increases to the minimum wage, which is now at $15.65 an hour.
French advocates that collecting more taxes from corporations earning record-high profits, such as grocery store chains, can offset the added costs for further government programs.
B.C.’s new premier, David Eby, has also indicated changes are in the works to not allow condominium strata to legally prevent single parents or couples with children from moving into a unit, which contributes to the lack of housing options for families.
French says the Living Wage for Families BC website offers certification and pathways for how employers can be certified as a living wage employer.
“It is not a matter of doing everything at once, but doing things on a gradual basis so you can retain employees who otherwise are left to always be looking for jobs that pay more. Every little bit helps, ” she said.
There are nearly 400 certified living wage employers across the province.
Living wage employers currently include small businesses, non-profit organizations, unions and cooperatives, as well as 14 municipal governments including the cities of Burnaby, Langley, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Quesnel, Vancouver and Victoria.
These employers have committed to pay all their direct staff a contract employees a living wage and require their major service providers to also pay a living wage, including for janitorial, security and food service contracts.