Kendall Hammond & Kristina Craig
Special to the News
Last June, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition released the report “Living Wage in Whitehorse, Yukon: 2016” that included the first-ever living wage calculation for Whitehorse. The calculation showed that the living wage in Whitehorse currently equals $19.12 per hour, one of the highest rates in all of Canada.
The living wage equals the hourly rate of pay that a family requires to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and child care after accounting for government transfers (e.g., the Canada Child Benefit) and deductions from pay (e.g., income tax and Canada Pension Plan premiums). A living wage enables working families to avoid the adverse outcomes associated with living in poverty and promotes healthy child development and social inclusion.
The living wage provides us with a tool to measure affordability as its calculation reflects the cost of basic needs in our community. Communities with a higher living wage are more unaffordable than those with a lower living wage. The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition advocates for policies that reduce the living wage and make life more affordable for Yukoners.
With a territorial election upon us, as we raise awareness of these issues through Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, we think the time is perfect for Yukoners to discuss a living wage and how to improve affordability throughout the territory.
There are two main ways to make life more affordable for families and individuals: increasing household incomes and reducing the cost of basic needs.
One way to boost incomes is to increase the minimum wage so that it better reflects the cost of living. In recent years, concerns about income inequality, stagnant wages, and the growth of working poverty have spurred movements across North America such as Fight for $15 and local living wage campaigns that advocate for fairer wages for low-income workers. Locally, the Yukon Federation of Labour supports fairer wages and has called on the territorial government to increase the minimum wage from $11.07 to $15.
Another way to boost income is through targeted transfers to low-income households. For example, most communities saw their living wage decrease this year because of the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit despite rising food and housing costs. It is estimated that the new Canada Child Benefit could pull an estimated 300,000 children out of poverty. Eligible households receive a tax-free monthly payment of up to $533 for each child under six and up to $450 for each child aged 6 to 17. Yukon Government has similar tools at its disposal.
The living wage report highlighted the main factors that contribute to the higher cost of living in Whitehorse compared to other communities in Canada. Most notably, a family of four in Whitehorse typically spends almost $1,800 per month on shelter whereas the same family pays roughly $1,650 in Vancouver, one of the most notoriously expensive housing markets in Canada. The high cost of shelter puts considerable stress on families as many are forced to live in inadequate or overcrowded housing with little money remaining for other needs. Research shows that a lack of affordable housing options contributes to homelessness.
The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has been calling for significant investments in both social and market housing to help lower housing costs. Without new housing stock, affordability for families and individuals alike will continue to make it hard for people to make ends meet.
Another major contributor to the high cost of living for families in Whitehorse is child care. As shown in the living wage report, a family with two children between the ages of four and seven pays roughly $1,069 per month for child care. For families with even younger children, child care can cost even more. The high cost of child care makes it financially difficult for caretakers, often the mother, to re-enter the workforce after childbirth and negatively impacts our economy.
Creating an affordable child care program is one way that the territorial government can address poverty while also encouraging parents to re-enter the workforce. For example, a $10-per-day child care program would lower the living wage by $4.95.
The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition looks forward to hearing how the territorial parties will help make Yukon a more affordable place to live. We want to hear how a new government will reduce the gap between the Living Wage and the minimum wage. We have questions about targeted transfers to low income Yukoners and increasing the supply of affordable housing. YAPC members look forward to also learning how a new government will ensure that people have access to nutritious, affordable food. And we want to know how each party will work to end homelessness in Whitehorse.
During this election campaign, we encourage voters to ask their candidate how they will work to end poverty in the territory. If you’d like to be involved, please call us at (867) 334-9317. The Living Wage calculation and questions for candidates can be found on our website: www.yapc.ca
Kendall Hammond is a public policy researcher with an interest in poverty and homelessness in the North and is the author of the report Living Wage in Whitehorse, Yukon: 2016, released this past May. Kristina Craig is the coordinator of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.