Report reveals rising living wage in Lake Cowichan

Increasingly expensive utilities a main contributor in 50 cent increase across the Cowichan Valley.

Social Planning Cowichan will be releasing the annual update to their Living Wage Report at the beginning of next month, and early numbers show that the living wage for residents of Lake Cowichan has continued to rise much faster than inflation.

According to the report, the living wage across the Cowichan Valley has experienced a 50 cent increase from 2014, taking it from $17.05 to $17.55 per hour. The 2.9 per cent increase is double that of inflation, which rose by only 1.2 per cent over the same period. Social Planning Cowichan began calculating the Cowichan Valley’s living wage in 2010, when it was $15.81.

The living wage is calculated by combining all expenses for a model family of two parents and two children, including food, housing, transportation, health care, childcare, clothing and other expenses, and determining the hourly wage each parent would need to earn in order to pay those expenses without accruing debt, working multiple jobs or relying on outside assistance.

Though the precise number of families living on less than a living wage is still undetermined, an overview of Cowichan Valley families will be included in the full Living Wage Report in June.

As for Lake Cowichan and the rest of the Valley, Social Planning Cowichan Executive Director Kathleen Sheppard pointed to a few main factors that contributed to the rise in living wage.

“One of the main things of course is that utilities have gone up significantly so we’re seeing quite an increase in that regard,” Sheppard said. “Housing is always high in this part of the world so that contributes quite a bit as well.”

The living wage is calculated as an average for all Cowichan Valley residents, meaning some expenses, such as transportation, would be higher for those living on the lake, while other expenses, such as housing, would likely be lower than the average cost for Cowichan Valley residents.

The trend of the living wage rising faster than inflation has been present all around BC. The cities of Victoria and Vancouver also recently released updates to their living wage, which were calculated at $20.05 per hour (up $1.12) and $20.68 per hour (up 58 cents), respectively. Elsewhere in Canada, the situation is different. Calgary’s living wage was calculated as $13.00 while Toronto’s was $16.60 per hour in 2014.

If the cost of utilities and other necessities continue to rise, Lake Cowichan residents will likely see the living wage rise again next year.

As for how the problem can be alleviated, Sheppard pointed out that it would likely require an intricate solution.

“There are so many factors that go into this,” she said. “There are a number of things that individual employers can do, there’s a program where employers can commit to providing a living wage for their employees, but that of course puts the burden on businesses. A number of groups around the province are calling for an increase in minimum wage as well, that sort of thing. So it’s a multi-faceted problem with more than one solution.”

Social Planning Cowichan will release the full 2015 Living Wage Report in the first week of June. The full report will include a full breakdown of the different components that go into the living wage, comparisons with different communities in the province and information on families in the region and how they’re doing in comparison to the living wage. It will be available online through Social Planning Cowichan’s website (www.socialplanningcowichan.org).