Kristina Craig, executive director of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, at a press announcement in Whitehorse on Jan. 25, 2018. Craig spoke to the News about living wage and cost of living on Oct. 31. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

‘Living wage’ in Whitehorse increases

The cost for a family of four to meet its basic needs is set at $19.07/hour, report says

$19.07 an hour.

That’s the amount two adults with two kids — ages 4 and 7 — in Whitehorse would have to make, each working 35 hours a week to meet the household’s basic needs, even when government programs to assist are taken into account.

The figure comes from the Yukon Anti Poverty Coalition’s Living Wage in Whitehorse, Yukon: 2019 report released Oct. 30. The piece was authored by Kendall Hammond and outlines 10 recommendations aimed at improving affordability and reducing poverty in the city.

“We have got to get to work on decreasing costs for people,” Kristina Craig, the coalition’s executive director, said in an Oct. 31 interview.

She added if costs can’t be decreased then there needs to be ways to get more money into people’s pockets.

The coalition releases a similar report each year. In 2018 the living wage was set at at $18.57 per hour.

Meanwhile, minimum wage in the Yukon was increased to $12.71 per hour earlier in 2019.

That the living wage figure increased by 50 cents per hour in a one-year period did not come as a surprise to Craig.

There haven’t been a lot of strides made in improving affordability in the city as housing costs continue to rise along with child care expenses, food prices and more, she said. There’s also been nothing done to reduce costs or increase incomes in the city.

Hammond said the living wage is largely driven by the high cost of rental housing.

“Just over 30 per cent of pre-tax income goes toward shelter as the largest single expense incurred by low and moderate income households,” he said. “Childcare is a substantial driver as well.”

The imagined family referenced in the report was paying $1,844.09 in rent each month and $1,219.92 for childcare.

A number of the recommendations in the report are actions that could be done fairly easily and make a big difference, Craig suggested.

Developing a low cost transit pass for low and modest income earners is one such option, she said.

“That could have many positive impacts,” she said, including benefits from increased transit use in the city.

The anti poverty coalition is currently researching how other municipalities in the country have offered low cost transit passes.

She also highlighted an enhancement to the Yukon Child Benefit of up to $1,200 annually per child (from the current maximum of $68.33 a month, or $819.96 annually, per child) as “something quite tangible” in the list of recommendations.

A more long-term initiative Craig would like to see pursued is a renewal and implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy with legislated targets and timelines set out.

Among the other recommendations are a focus on new social or community housing; piloting a basic annual income program; implementing scheduled minimum wage increases; indexing the Yukon Child Care Benefit to inflation or child care costs; and targeting the Carbon Tax Rebate to low income earners.

There would also be moves to update the Northern Market Basket Measure for Whitehorse and follow the Northwest Territories’ move of including communities outside of Whitehorse for the Northern Market Basket Measure. The market basket measure is a way of establishing what’s considered “low income” based on the cost of a basket of basic goods.

Craig said the next step for the anti poverty coalition will be continuing to research the transit issue along with writing letters and meeting with officials to pursue the other recommendations with a goal of closing the gap between the minimum wage and a living wage in the territory.

The issue was broached during question period Oct. 31 by NDP leader Kate White, who continued to highlight the gap between the $12.71 minimum wage and $19.07 living wage.

“I just want to remind everyone that the gap between the living wage and the minimum wage is greater than $6 an hour,” White said. “In response to the Employment Standards Board’s recommendations last spring, this government increased Yukon’s minimum wage, but stopped short of committing to continue to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.

“At the same time that the government is telling Yukoners that it won’t increase minimum wage, this minister is publicly encouraging Yukoners to spend more money on goods so that their purchases last longer. The tone-deafness is off the charts on this one.”

Speaking to reporters following question period Community Services Minister John Streicker said the report shows “poverty is a complex problem that will need a multi-faceted approach to address it and, of course, we’ve always had a multi-faceted approach.”

The territory reviews the living wage report when it comes out each year, Streicker said.

Questioned whether the territory would raise minimum wage in light of the report, Streicker noted it is the employment standards board that sets minimum wage, which is indexed each year to the cost of living. The territory will continue to work with the board, he said.

Work has been ongoing on an economic analysis that is set to be finished soon and delivered to the board, which could then help determine any changes to minimum wage.

As for closing the gap between the minimum and living wage, Streicker said there is less of a gap now than there’s been in the past, though he acknowledged there’s work to do.

“That’s why we’ve been doing things like Safe At Home, like investing in more lots, like working with municipalities on the fronts where they work,” he said. “There’s a whole range of ways at which we’re trying to address this.”

With files from Julien Gignac

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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