At least $19.79 an hour. That’s the estimated wage two parents on the Sunshine Coast each needed to earn during a 35-hour workweek throughout 2021 to provide the basics for a family of four, according to a new report by the Sunshine Coast Foundation and Living Wage for Families BC.
The estimate was included in the Living Wage Report for 2021, published by the foundation on Jan. 10, which called the amount “conservative” and able to provide “stability, but not upward mobility.”
In B.C., minimum wage rose by less than a dollar in June 2021, from $14.60 to $15.20 an hour. Meanwhile, the living wage estimate for the Coast was $18.80 in 2011, $19.25 in 2015 and now $19.79 for 2021 — an increase of 5.25 per cent over the past decade.
“We know that many families on the Coast are struggling and need support from local charities,” said the foundation board chair Manjit Kang in a press release. “This report helps us understand why they are falling behind.”
The living wage estimate includes the cost of housing, food, transportation, childcare, health care and other categories. It assumes that the children are either in full-time childcare or enrolled in school, but the report also states there are not enough licensed childcare spaces to meet the existing need, which may require families to use more expensive private care.
The most expensive necessity for Sunshine Coast workers is housing, with the median monthly rent and utilities calculated at $2,005, which does not reflect what the Foundation called the “dramatically” increasing cost of new listings in recent years.
As the methodology is based on a calculation guide used province-wide (and therefore not regionally specific), the living wage estimate does not include budgeting for necessary off-Coast trips such as those for medical appointments and shopping or professional services not available on the Sunshine Coast. It also did not include additional costs such as debt or long-term savings for education, retirement or down payment on a home.
If two people are earning the estimated living wage for their family of four, as per the hypothetical situation the report uses, it calculates they cannot afford a monthly rent more than $1,501.50 before becoming housing insecure.
“Even when earning a living wage, a family’s savings are meagre — on the Sunshine Coast, the hypothetical living wage family earmarks $230.88 per month for contingencies. Over the course of a year, this amounts to $2,770.60. This is meant to cover any costs not included in the calculation. As such, the living wage is not sufficient for planned savings,” the report says.
A living wage for single-parent families has not been calculated, as those households tend to earn less than two-parent families and therefore may have more access to government transfers, the report’s footnotes state.
“[R]esearch suggests that the living wage for families is similar to that for a single adult and for couples without children. These family types save on childcare costs, but do not experience the same economies of scale around housing.”
The hourly living wage estimate, the report states, is intended to begin a conversation about supporting low-wage workers in the community.
“The pandemic has revealed how much of our economy depends on undervalued and underpaid workers in service and care industries”, Anastasia French, Living Wage for Families BC organizer, said in a press release. “Public sector employers and private companies can support poverty reduction efforts and pandemic recovery by paying a living wage. This will stimulate the local economy because lower-income families tend to purchase close to home.”
The report also identified low-wage workers as more likely to be essential, and during the pandemic, “Those earning some of the lowest wages risked their health to ensure that their communities had access to necessary goods and services. Some workers saw temporary wage increases, but not all.”
The Sunshine Coast has seen companies offering signing bonuses in a bid to hire employees.
The impact of a living wage also helps reduce the stress of workers as well as their families, by providing the necessities and stability. Beyond the family unit, communities benefit from workers being paid a living wage as workers are more likely to stay in their jobs. This reduces labour shortages, keeping businesses open and decreasing recruitment and training costs.
But by 2029, BC Stats predicts the Sunshine Coast will have more children and seniors than working-age residents (ages 15 to 64) needed to provide services the community needs.
Along with identifying the need for a living wage, the report outlines a few actions various levels of government could take, such as upcoming investments in childcare and protecting rental stock through bylaws and zoning.
On Jan. 28, the Sunshine Coast Foundation is hosting a virtual community conversation with invited decision-makers, charities, employers and workers to discuss living wages.
More information can be found at sunshinecoastfoundation.org/vital-signs.