Poverty coalition pegs Nanaimo’s living wage at $18 an hour

NANAIMO – Business leaders say more money not a solution as cost of everything rises with wages.

It takes more than minimum wage for families to afford to live in the Harbour City.

According to Nanaimo’s new poverty coalition, parents need to be working full-time $17.99-per-hour jobs just to afford the basics.

The Ending Poverty Together Coalition, set up to address the city’s child poverty problem, tallies the living wage for the Nanaimo region at more than $7 more than the B.C. minimum for parents working full-time and supporting two children. The wage, which covers the cost of necessities like rent, clothing, food and childcare in this area, isn’t too far from that of other B.C. communities, according to the Living Wage for Families Campaign, which shows Port Alberni’s living wage at $17.22 and Parksville at $17.66.

Joanne Bevis, poverty coalition member, says the frightening part is the living wage only covers the basics. It doesn’t look at the cost of buying kids hockey sticks and skates, paying for children to be in sports clubs, art classes and dance. It doesn’t include paying for a car or saving for a home.

Now Bevis and the coalition’s living wage sub-committee hopes to explain to businesses why the higher payment is necessary and have them let their name stand as a living-wage employer.

“It’s not a matter of handouts,” she said. “I myself am involved in providing lunch and brunches and feeding the hungry, but you know what, that doesn’t change it. To really change it we need to work right from the grassroots – people need to earn a decent wage.”

But while a living wage isn’t an unheard-of concept in Nanaimo, there are questions about how it would affect the local economy and whether it’s the right lifeline for people in poverty.

Kim Smythe, chief executive officer for the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, says he’s committed to achieving living wages for his employees, which is important for self-esteem, but also calls it a complicated process that requires discussion. He also questions how living wages would affect larger employers and wants to see more research.

“You’re going to increase the price of everything we purchase and the detailed thinking that has to go in there is, OK, if the price of everything goes up, then what are we achieving by increasing the amount that we pay people?” Smythe said.

Jim Mercier, owner of Ricky’s Restaurant and Boston Pizza in Nanaimo, isn’t convinced families would benefit. A living wage is a “feel-good program, but really it does not pass the economic barriers and the tests,” said Mercier, who believes market dictates wage.

Don Bonner, business owner and chairman of the United Way, says it’s known that when people at the low end of the income spectrum get extra money, it’s thrown back into the economy, but with a living wage, he also believes there would still be people in poverty. The wage doesn’t account for people lacking full-time jobs, or single parents.

“The conversation that we should be talking about is a guaranteed minimum income level … no matter who you are or what you’re doing you always have a minimum amount of money and if you are not getting it through your wages then you’re being supplemented by the government,” he said.

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