The minimum hourly wage a Whitehorse resident needs to earn to be able to afford basic needs in 2017 — including adequate food, housing, transportation and healthcare — is $18.26, according to the second annual living wage report released by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition (YAPC) Sept. 6.
That’s down 86 cents from the living wage of $19.12 in 2016, a drop that can be mainly attributed to two federal policy changes enacted in the 2016 budget.
Generally, it’s a positive thing when the living wage drops, YAPC co-chair Charlotte Hrenchuk said.
“(A drop in living wage) means it would be less costly to live here and it would mean that conditions are improving for people on lower incomes because you would need less money in order to have basic standards of living,” Hrenchuk said.
The living wage was calculated based on a “reference family” in Whitehorse with a “modest standard of living” made up of two adults working full-time and two children ages four and seven. If both adults were to each work 35 hours per week, earning $18.26 an hour, they should be able to comfortably cover the costs of nine basic need categories: housing, food, clothing and footwear, transportation, child care, health care, parent education, household items like toiletries and “social inclusion” like small gifts or outings, and a small contingency fund.
The federal government’s enactment of the Canada Child Benefit policy and a 33 per cent increase to the Northern Living Allowance helped to make living in Whitehorse more affordable for the reference family this year compared to last, even factoring in income deductions like taxes and a 1.51 per cent cost increase for basic household needs.
The living wage is slightly higher for a single-person household, coming in at $18.86. The report explains that though single-person households don’t have any child-related expenses, they’re not eligible for several child-related government benefits families with children can take advantage of.
The report notes that the living wage calculation does not take into account several real-world variables such as wage discrimination or other common costs like credit card debt, home ownership, owning a pet or saving for retirement. It also acknowledges that the living wage for a single parent would be much higher, and that as of April, minimum wage in the Yukon was only $11.32 per hour — almost $7 less than the living wage.
For people making minimum wage or around it, Hrenchuk said, it means having to pick between necessities.
“I think here, it can be a lot harder for people on lower incomes because there are few resources here for people to access. The housing market is smaller, there’s one food bank, there are fewer opportunities for employment,” she said.
“So you have to choose. It’s that age-old story of choosing between paying the rent or feeding the kids.”
The report did not state how many Whitehorse residents are making the living wage.
The YAPC report makes several recommendations on how various levels of government can help to further lower the living wage and make Whitehorse more affordable for residents. Among them are making a substantial investment into social housing, enhancing the Yukon Child Benefit and keeping it in line with inflation, expanding public transit and offering subsidized public transit passes to low-income households, measuring and tracking food costs and insecurity, and reporting how often landlords include utilities in rent to get a better picture of the cost of living for renters.
The recommendations, said Hrenchuk, are “an invitation … to do things that will help mitigate” poverty in Whitehorse.
“We’ve seen what the federal government’s programs have done, they’ve lowered the living wage even though there was an increase in the cost of living, so there are other recommendations coming out of this that the municipal and territorial governments could do to bring down that living wage (further),” she said.
YAPC community outreach co-ordinator Kate Mechan agreed.
“The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition isn’t so much interested in saying people should be raising the minimum wage or paying a living wage or whatever…. We really just want to demonstrate that there are tools that governments can use to make cities more affordable, make Whitehorse more affordable,” she said.
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