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Living Wage?

There was a lot of talk today on the CBC and other media about the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives issuing a new "living wage" value for Metro Vancouver.

A "living wage" in this context is defined as a minimal amount for two adults working full-time (40 hours a week) both have to earn to support two children above the poverty line. The value released today is $18.71. That's two people earning $18.71/hour and both working full time. This is poverty line, i.e. food, shelter, clothing, and minimal entertainment, not being able to afford to buy a house, not being able to afford to go away for vacations, not being able to save for retirement, etc.

I want to look at this $18.71 value in terms of pre-Generation-X standards, before it was expected and required for both parents to work to simply support a family, back in the days where normal meant one person supporting three others. So for one person to support another adult and two children would really mean double this value. That would mean an individual supporting a spouse and two children at the poverty line would need a full time, 40-hour a week job at $37.42 to "get by."

In the 1950's, 1960's and up to the mid-1970's an adult working at a crappy job like pumping gas, waitressing, janitor, etc. could expect pretty close to that kind of living, say enough to support a family of three. Since two adults earning $18.71 is enough to support two children it follows that one adult making $18.71 is enough to support one person, so we'll assume $9.36 is enough for one person. So for one person to support two others we get $28.07. To have the life one could earn at the $1.35 minimum wage of 1974 one would now have to make $28.07. And in case $28.07 is a bit too abstract, let's translate that to an annual salary: $58,385.60. Now look at it this way—if you are making less than $60,000/year, you are making less than your average Space-Age gas-jockey.

You know why the punks started yelling "no future" in 1977? This is fucking why! Welcome to the future.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 5th, 2010 04:34 am (UTC)
this is why we're not returning to vancouver. I don't care how delightful the scenery is.

r makes significantly above that poverty line, we never made that much in vancouver on 3-4 jobs simultaneously between the two of us.

We have savings now. we have two holidays this year, already paid largely in full, and we're expecting that we can snag a nice small size but bigger than vancouver condo in downtown toronto for a price I last saw in vancouver almost 12 years ago.

We were working ourselves senseless, half to death, and never saw each other since I was on graveyard and he on days, and multiple jobs.

friend here turned up from Montreal and in his first week, has a tidy 65k a year job, which is on the low end for IT here.

Vancouver sells this dream, this idiotic unattainable dream. A nice tale of "mountains, beaches, and wonder" but oh, the price of it. You never get to see it because you're working 2-3 jobs to stay afloat.

have absolutely no regrets living here. There's a thriving alt scene, ( they're quite friendly I met a few last weekend!)

Sure this place can be spendy, if you want your million dollar condo, and such, but it's proving to have a better wage and living expense balance, and more culture and art than we ever have time for.

Vancouver the dream as we know it, is in the shitter. our only regret now is that we didn't leave sooner, and just come directly here.

Friends moved here from calgary shortly after we did. put a lowball offer on a house. Got it.

I love Vancouver but I'll never return. ( of course I get griefed for being a torontonian now but i love this city, I really do. in less than a year, it's been pretty damn good to us.)

May. 5th, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
The living wage for Toronto, by the same standards, is $16.60. Better, but that still means you have to make $50,000/yr. to be on par with someone selling socks and underwear at the old Eaton's store at Yonge and Queen, or someone who swabbed puke out the subway when it was new in 1954.

At the $16.60 value that means for Toronto today $70,000/yr. is equivalent to what a grease-monkey or retail manager brought home in the 1960's - barely enough to support a wife and two kids. Someone on an assembly line in Hamilton was doing better.
May. 5th, 2010 05:18 am (UTC)
you know i remember working with an older chinese guy in the mid 90s at the davie street safeway...he had worked there most of his life and i assume pretty well owned his own home...he was the single wage earner (probably around $21 an hour) and had a wife and two kids...they had no luxuries and lived very frugally...and that was 15 years ago at least...

i'm a single guy and i make about $50000 a year (almost $58 last year) and as a single guy i can live comfortably...but no excesses that's for sure...i don't own a great deal of stuff and i have a small one bedroom that's 1/3 of my income only because i've been here 16 years...i don't know how people who make minimum wage, or even slightly above, or those who live on disability pensions do it...it's insanity that the average hourly wage in canada went from about $20.12 an hour in 1982 to about $20.82 an hour a year ago...that's 3.4% in 17 or 18 years...i can't even imagine what inflation was during that time...what the hell is wrong with this world...my parents could provide us a nice house, a swimming pool, a pool table, etc on one income in the 70s and 80s (not here of course)...but even when we lived here we lived in kerrisdale just of west blvd, in tsawassen in a brand new house and in richmond on no 5 road with 2 acres of land and horses...that life isn't even imaginable unless both people are bringing in over $100 000 minimum...

and that's why the mentality of the right just doesn't make any sense to me...and especially the arguments against raising minimum wages (though we can always find taxes to cut for business)...we transfer all of their expenses so that they can pay more to the shareholders...prices never go down anymore unless they absolutely have to...and that's why we will again be screwed by the hst...

something has to give...we can't just eat cake...
May. 5th, 2010 06:08 am (UTC)
Exactly. It's a system that relies on people having just enough to not want to risk it, being just comfortable enough to be complacent, with just enough hope to stay in vacuous denial.
May. 6th, 2010 12:03 am (UTC)
and for the most part of the 50s to even the 90s they managed to keep that balance alive...then greed took over and now they can't even bare to give the every dwindling middle class the bare luxuries...and the sheeple are still fooled...they don't want to tax business or the rich because they believe that stupid nonsense that one day too i may be rich...even though fully 99% or better of people never change social or economic status or groups...unless they are going down in level in which the percentage would now be higher...

they do give us the soma of never ending television but because there are so many channels to fill it is entirely crap (can someone explain to me why treehouse tv runs childrens programming at 1 in the morning?)...news is infortainment for the most part, nattering on about celebrities and the dirty laundry of anyone remotely famous...people who wouldn't have merited more than a passing sentence in the newspapers of old (sarah palin, glenn beck, bill o'reilly) are followed with an eerie fascination or given a pulpit to spew their venom and hatred...and knowing that fomenting the hatred of the masses keeps ratings high they just lie to get a rise out of the mindless masses...the only funny thing there is when the idiot masses finally rise they will have those morons heads on a pike as well...not one of them is poor by any means...

and the politicians are now the poor man's courtiers sucking on the teat of the ceos and billionaires...they get their patronage appointments to pay them off when they leave public life so no point in looking after their constituents...though there are the occasional bright lights in the field, it's fewer and farter between...mostly because you have to be fairly rich to get into the game in the first place...i just hope i'm stil around to see the revolution...i wouldn't mind turning us back to something like catalonia in the 30s...
May. 5th, 2010 06:50 am (UTC)
min wage went up here some nominal sum of 25 or 50c and business owners squealed bloody blue murder, as did the conservatives, on how the unceasing demand of the low waged rabble to be paid fairly would end all business.

It's been a month and I've not seen the downfall of business here yet. we have a fairly generous min wage 10.50.

when I left van i was making 13 an hour, just enough to be very frugally comfortable. My husband was working 3 contracts. i was often juggling 2-3 jobs as well.

I do believe vancouver's just shit for paying people, min wage or not, even professional salaries there are laughable. Don't miss those days a bit.

But welcome, yep, to the need to see ever increasing profit, for shareholders, and damn the people you have to squeeze for it. I don't know why people believe profit can rise perpetually, but lo, i guess it does?

I accept that things have changed from my parents and grandparents day. Job stability is gone, lowest bidder and outsourcing and contracts are the order of the day.

May. 6th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
yeh that reminds me of the imf and world bank saying if mexico or argentina went bankrupt the whole world order would crumble...and the next day they were there doing business as usual...and nothing had changed except the governments finally had some money to look after their people...greece should be doing the same instead of making people's lives miserable because of the olympics...i even some stuffed shirt from harvard claiming the europeans should adopt the american work effort and cut back on their perks and vacations...we should be emulating them not the other way around...though if we can all become slaves all the better for them...they already have massive debt enslaving a good portion of our society...

and outsourcing and sending jobs overseas makes no sense to me...who the hell is left to buy your products??? the guys making them buy them...people making minimum wage don't buy appliances, cars, houses and such...ah but greed is blinding...until the waltons compound is stormed and they are drawn and quartered...i remember the days when my dad worked for one company for his entire career (though he was self-employed at first)...and the company paid him for that loyalty...now you are gone as soon as they can find a way to do it more cheaply...

i keep hoping people will wake up...i think growing food instability and foreclosures in the states are waking people up...that's the one downfall of the greedy, they can't even see fit to give those few things that people will not live without...food and shelter...they want it all...
May. 6th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
my european relatives all work pretty darn hard.

however they think the North American work style is just plain insanity. No vacation time? few benefits? They could just NOT figure out why the hell we felt the need to work ourselves to death.

And my family have owned businesses and worked in high level jobs, so it's hardly like we're euroslackers. I doubt the american style "work the minions till they bleed" thing will catch on there.

I'm still aghast that one friend in the US made 2 bucks an hour plus tips as a server. And they have little in the way of employee legal protections to top it off.

They can keep that, I don't want it.
May. 6th, 2010 01:03 am (UTC)
i can't figure it out myself...which i why i work 4 days at 8.5 hours a day...just barely part time and i have a long weekend every weekend...i wish i had the vacation that the europeans do, not to mention it creates jobs...i'm finally going to have 5 weeks next year after only 18 years of work...
May. 6th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
yeah, my dutch relatives were aghast at our "two weeks if we plead and beg for it" that we in low wage jobs usually get.

4 weeks is standard, they were shocked, because they'd expected we'd be staying the month. Which is why we're laying the foundations to relocate, for a better work/life balance. ( toronto's just a wonderful stepping stone, but at very worst being here permanently I can more than live with.)

I worked a job in Van that by its nature gave me a pretty nice flexible schedule for time off, but that was a rarity. Mostly it's been 'work 60-70 hours to get yelled at for not putting in 10 more" crap. I work for myself now. The pay's not terrific but I at least have some control.

My husband's work seems to GET this, they have generous overtime, generous time off, 4 weeks vacation to start, bonuses, and some idea that you can't run people in to the ground.

It's very different than what we were dealing with in Van. A friend today said the temp agencies are offering her some pretty sweet jobs for things close to that miracle living wage Michael noted.

But i don't really see the american style work thing catching on in europe, as far as I saw it, they seemed to really believe that work isn't the end all be all of life.

Some of the other "tales from wage slavery" in the US just make me gnash my teeth, I don't get how people can treat staff like that. But they can. And do. and the employee has little recourse. frankly, they may believe its the only way their economy will roll but it doesn't seem to be doing them any real favors at the moment.

May. 6th, 2010 02:41 am (UTC)
well it's mostly because they've essentially destroyed the unions in the states, i think they are down to 7% of workers...there used to be two safeguards for the people, unions and government...well government has been bought and the unions are just about busted...the whole "american dream" thing is so out of reach...but then again they are the only industrialized country where religious beliefs have increased with industrialization and prosperity...every where else there is an inverse relationship...

faith the final frontier...
May. 6th, 2010 03:58 am (UTC)
interesting, huh? I've heard the concept of "moral prosperity" is now a big thing in the US amongst the evangelical/fundie set, that if you're rich or prosperous, it's because god loves you and your more moral self, if you're poor, its because of moral failing and god likes you less and you're being punished.

The idea that capitalism, unfettered, will magically respond to the needs of customers, is so strong there, even though that's definitely NOT happening there ( witness insurance companies and the banking issues,) is astounding. I almost think we're watching the slo mo collapse of the United states as it currently is. I am fond of my us friends, they work hard, but they get one hell of a shit deal from their country.

I run my own business. If I hire someone, I'm going to, when I can actually provide a work environment for them that I would feel comfortable with, and nothing less. If I wouldn't do the work, or work in conditions in my studio, I sure as HELL wouldn't inflict it on someone else.

That does mean a fair wage.

A friend this week walked off a job that promised 20/hr, and reasonable hours, but turned into 11/hr and 6 days a week. She told them to get stuffed. We're lucky in that we generally have some job mobility. Telling your employer to stuff it in the US means not just loss of salary, but loss of one's medical insurance ( a whole OTHER pickle), and often, being considered untouchable by any other job, if there were any entry level jobs like the one you just left.

May. 6th, 2010 04:58 am (UTC)
there is a rather large evangelical born again church in colorado or somewhere like that which has 10 000 members and they preach that jesus didn't really want christians to provide charity...it was merely a suggestion...it didn't mean you were a bad christian if you had too much and didn't do something for others...and the fact they peddled this and people bought it is mind boggling...the other interesting thing i find about their culture is everyone prays to god over the most minor detail of their lives...football players praying they'll win the big game, but if they win then those praying just as hard on the other team have to lose...how does god choose??? maybe it's that "moral prosperity" at work...

i honestly believe we are in a unique time in history...we are witnessing the decline of a civilization on its doorstep but not from within...that hasn't happened since the british empire imploded...but where it might take us is anyone's guess...thus far we are mostly immune, but i wonder if that can last...
May. 5th, 2010 05:46 am (UTC)
and i'll at least say that at least housing prices here aren't absurd, ( that 10k difference means a downpayment on a 200k condo in the 800sf range with low strata fees to boot. ) and salaries are higher by far, and min wage here is pushing 11/hr. not close to liveable, but not the pittance min wage vancouvers got.

We are far better off financially now, than ever, ( and digging ourselves out of the debt that vancouver/halifax sunk us into).

Add in the demand of employers for low paid college educated ( how many ads for "5 yrs exp, 8.50 an hour did I see in my work searches there?)

R's supporting both of us on his salary. Should we have a kid, we'll still be able to manage. Not something we could do in Vancouver, because even with similar salary issues, the housing cost just kills any hope.

May. 5th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
It is just a bit re-donk-ulous, eh?
May. 6th, 2010 08:26 am (UTC)
Vancouver sounds similar to Perth, Australia.

The average worker can't afford the average house.
You need two incomes to service a mortgage.
Payments for unemployed, students and the retired are well below the poverty line.

Our working conditions here are generally not too bad as what Van sounds like though.

I thought this lecture by Elizabeth Warren was interesting in regards to this issue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A

Basically the banks are bleeding us all dry.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


Michael / Atratus

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