There is a big gap between the haves and have nots in Trail. That’s one of the messages from a colleague of the Skills Centre who has agreed to an interview to discuss their experience as a living wage earner provided we keep their identity anonymous. We agreed because we feel that what she has to say is important to share.
There are pros and cons to the living wage in almost everything she discusses.
“The living wage decreases your financial strain, but it still isn’t great. It does help to buy healthier food and participate in some activities. This supports a healthy family unit. It helps with meeting basic needs with quality items. However, when costs of living rise exponentially, the living wage isn’t enough,” she says.
The living wage is the income a worker needs to pay for basic essentials like food and rent, along with the ability to have an active and fulfilling family and personal life, Living Wage BC explains. It is calculated using a basic budget for a two-income family with two young children. The calculation does not include paying off debt, saving for the future or the cost of caring for a loved one such as an elderly parent.
Living wage rates increased in 2023
Trail’s living wage is now $21.55 per hour based on a 35 hour week. Our colleague and her partner fit the living wage example with two incomes and three children, one in high school and two younger children requiring various childcare coverage.
“One parent needs a flexible job as there is no after school care at most schools, and we’re not in a position to get support from family. It isn’t really realistic to have two parents working full time, year round, unless one of them has extremely flexible work arrangements. Someone always needs to be available for family issues that come up,” she says.
“What we can do regarding kids activities is limited. We cannot keep up with the higher incomes earned through Teck or Interior Health, so often kids get left out of things. Local expectations on what we can afford are too high,” she explains.
“We still live paycheque to paycheque. It’s not just about the wage. We have no benefits.”
Employers benefit from fair compensation, too
An employer paying for benefits is one way they can mitigate the cost of living for employees and provide better compensation that isn’t entirely based on wages.
A living wage helps employees feel more loyalty to an employer, our colleague says. Looking at it as a cost benefit analysis, if they pay a living wage, they will have less turn over, which means more consistency in service and better customer satisfaction. Customers and clients want more consistency, she believes.
“If you feel like you are earning enough you will stay, if you are under constant financial pressure, you will always been on the lookout for a better job.” Living Wage BC’s information backs up this idea: 96% of living wage employers in BC have found that paying a living wage has helped them live their values and reduce staff turnover.
“Business should think of it like maintenance on a car. For a good running vehicle, you need to pay for and have regular oil changes. If you don’t, you are running on old dirty oil which makes for a less reliable and efficient car. Having living wages is like making sure your car is running on clean oil.”
While she understands that small businesses are often also just scraping by, she sees the solution in sustainable business planning to ensure that the costs associated with a living wage are actually considered with the benefits.
“As for the community, it is a happier place if people make a living wage. Overall, the wellness of the community is better. If we don’t have to worry about money, we have more time to volunteer in our community and support people who live here. If we are always worried about making more money, we tend to work more and longer which leaves no time for community investment.”
As an employee, are you earning a living wage? If you’re an employer, do you pay a living wage? Find out what you need to do to become a certified living wage employer.