Viewpoint: Living wage report appreciated
By HANNAH BROWN
The Living Wage for Salt Spring Island report commissioned by the Salt Spring Foundation is a long overdue and much appreciated look at the real costs of living on Salt Spring.
It shows us that our Canadian minimum wage is insufficient for living a nominally stress-free life. When referring to stress, in this case, I am addressing the stress of finding housing that is not filled with mould, or housing that has adequate space for a family, as well as the stress of being able to feed oneself and one’s family healthy food, especially food grown on our island.
It is important that the main employers on our island take this study seriously and approach it with a morality that goes beyond the bottom line. People should not be working for most of the wages being paid by the primary employers on this island. It is shameful and unnecessary. The disparity between the wages that are paid to our most needed workers in the retail section and the rest of us must be addressed.
We are a profit-driven society that does not address the issue of how much profit is enough. Instead, we need to talk about worker health and well-being. We need to give our heads a shake and stop glossing over the problems. We need these workers. Really, what would we do without them? Who would stack the shelves with food and who would check out and bag our food?
Are we all capable of making our own clothes and shoes and tools and household and gardening supplies? Clearly not, but thanks to retail employees who provide this service to us, we walk in and there they are shelved and ready to be cashed out and bagged for us. We also receive information from these same employees that we might need in order to choose the appropriate item for our needs, or details that will help us to use them easily.
A person making $15 an hour, working an eight-hour day and five days a week makes $31,000 minus taxes, etc., which is $25,000. Housing costs should be 33 per cent of their gross income, which is $852.50 per month. So we see how this is tightly tied in with affordable housing. Affordable housing for a single person with children who is making $15 an hour is only $852.
For those who make $12 an hour, the affordable level would be $686. A couple with two children making this wage would theoretically have $1,372 to spend on housing. Is this enough on Salt Spring or in Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto? How many units to fit a family of four can be found at this price? Very few.
We can also see through these figures why so many single women in the lower wage sector and raising children are living at or below the poverty level. This applies also to many senior women. More than 1.5 million Canadian women live in poverty and this continues to increase. Most of these older women were lower wage earners. It’s hard enough to make ends meet in this wage bracket and all but impossible to save for your older years. In the last 25 years, Canada’s rate of poverty has increased by 25 per cent.
I am very appreciative that the Salt Spring Foundation has brought this report forward. What we will do about it is now the question. We must not put our heads in the proverbial sand pile.
The writer is a Salt Spring resident and former teacher who says she feels very privileged to have a wonderful pension. She adds that her foremothers and fathers were hard working, dedicated low wage earners who were not so fortunate. They hoped that the future would be brighter for the working class.