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Metro Vancouver living wage rises due to soaring housing and child care costs

The costs of a "bare bones" living for a family in British Columbia has gone up for the fourth year in a row due to rising housing and child care costs, says a new report on B.C.'s living wage.

The report, compiled by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the Living Wage for Families Campaign, tabulated the wage necessary to afford basic expenses -- like shelter, food, transportation, child care and healthcare -- in communities across B.C. The study found the living wage for Metro Vancouver increased $0.33 over last year to $19.14 -- a jump mediated by the introduction of the U-Pass, which has helped cut bus transportation costs for some families struggling to make ends meet.

"People have been squeezed before 2008 and they're gradually being squeezed more, and what it translates into is more people who are working or living in poverty having to go to food banks, trying to get two or three jobs, or going without basic necessities like food or heating," said Michael McCarthy Flynn, spokesperson for the Living Wage for Families Campaign.

The report found that shelter costs rose by close to six per cent this year to $76 a month because of soaring rents in Vancouver and "modest" increases in utilities and telephone expenses. Child care fees also jumped $33 a month, a three per cent increase, while MSP premiums have followed suit, rising six per cent as they have for the past three years. (Another premium increase is slated for 2013, the report noted.)

Child care and housing form the biggest expenditures for families with low-income jobs, and an increase in those expenses have been largely responsible for the roughly $2.50 rise in the living wage over the past four years.

Surprisingly, however, this year's increase in the Metro Vancouver living wage -- 1.8 per cent -- came under the region's rate of inflation, 2.8 per cent, said Iglika Ivanova, a CCPA economist and co-author of the report.

The decrease came from including the U-Pass, introduced last year, into the living wage calculation, she said. The report said the low-cost student pass has helped halve average family transportation costs by $23 a month.

"That sort of makes our point," said Flynn. "The living wage can be achieved by employers paying more wages or by policy interventions that reduce expenses for people," he said, adding a community child care plan similar to Quebec's could help further reduce the living wage by $3.22 an hour, making it more affordable for employers.

Currently, two B.C. communities -- New Westminster and Esquimalt -- pay their employees and contractors a living wage. But Flynn said that number would grow and that several B.C. businesses and institutions have already adopted a living wage for their employees.

Just last year, Vancity Credit Union -- the biggest such union in the country -- pledged to provide a living wage for its employees. More recently, School District 69 for Qualicum and Parksville also adopted a living wage standard this week after a successful campaign to have one implemented.

Adam Pez is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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