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Editorial: Cowichan living wage a wake-up call

Take a minute to let the discrepency sink in
The living wage for people in the Cowichan Valley has gone up to $25.20 per hour. (Black Press photo)

The living wage in Cowichan is now $25.20 per hour.

That’s for two people working full time to support a family of four. That’s more than $50,000 per year, each.

Minimum wage in B.C. is $16.75 per hour. Take a minute to let the discrepancy sink in. People making minimum wage are painfully aware they are not keeping up, let alone getting ahead, but the cold, hard numbers are mind-boggling.

Two of the biggies, as always, are housing and food costs, which have gone up 17.6 per cent and 6.1 per cent since last year, respectively.

These are not optional items. And the refrain from the unsympathetic (and well-to-do) that people should just move, then, is entirely unhelpful and out of touch. First of all, just move where? And secondly, forcing people away from their communities and support systems is likely to just lead to more hardship, not less.

It’s notable that Cowichan’s living wage isn’t a lot different from the urban centre of Victoria. This is basically down to the fact that people who live in the Cowichan Valley need to own at least one vehicle to get around, whereas people who live in more urban centres can use public transit for all their needs. The purchase of a vehicle, plus the yearly costs of maintenance, insurance, and gas add significantly to the budget. (A good argument that we need better public transit.)

The stress of trying to pay for the basics when there’s not enough money coming in and the prices just seem to keep rising can lead to a decline in both mental and physical health as long hours for seemingly no reward take a toll. Many often feel helpless to change their circumstances as well. It’s a vicious cycle that hurts not just the individual, but the community as a whole.

Let’s face it, we need people to do these low paying jobs just as much, if not more than we need people to do so-called white collar work. The discrepancy in wages between jobs is utterly unfair and often has little to do with skill, intelligence, or even hard work. And the truly rich can make money without doing any work at all. So we at least need to make sure that everyone can afford to live a relatively comfortable life, no matter what their employment. This should be doable in a society as wealthy as ours.

It’s time to try a guaranteed basic income. That’s what minimum wage was supposed to be but clearly isn’t. Pilot projects in a variety of places have proven very successful.

It’s too bad there seems to be little political will to change a system that’s not working. We can do better.