May 15, 2019

BC child care spending shows the power of good public policy. What’s next?


On May 1, the Living Wage for Families Campaign released new living wage rates for 12 BC communities. Even though costs are increasing steeply for rent and other basic necessities, the cost of living for families with children is lower this year thanks to the provincial government’s new child care policies.

The living wage is the hourly amount that each of two working parents with two young children must earn to meet their basic needs. It captures the overall cost of living in a community, including both family expenses and government taxes and transfers. This year, BC’s living wages vary from $14.03 per hour in the North Central Region to $19.50 per hour in Metro Vancouver. All living wages calculated this year have decreased from previous years.

Does this mean it’s now cheaper to live in BC? Not necessarily. Costs for housing, food and transportation are climbing every year and the overall cost of living is still on an upward trend.

However, BC’s recent child care investments are reducing out-of-pocket costs for families by thousands of dollars. In Metro Vancouver, the living wage family saves $8,213 on child care expenses — a 45 per cent reduction from 2018. These savings come from two programs: the income-tested Affordable Child Care Benefit ($7,013) and the universal Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative ($1,200).

Without BC’s new child care spending, the living wage rates would have increased considerably. For example, two parents with two children in Metro Vancouver would each have had to each earn $22.47 an hour in 2019 to cover their basic expenses — a shocking 7.5 per cent increase over the 2018 living wage of $20.91 per hour.

The impact of the government’s child care spending this year shows the power of good public policy to improve standards of living. But much still needs to be done in other areas, particularly housing, food and transportation.

This is a win for some BC families, who for too long have struggled to get by in the midst of a housing crisis, a lack of affordable child care, and a minimum wage that stagnated for the first decade of this century. With the provincial government’s recent steps in child care, its poverty reduction plan, and its newly introduced amendments to the Employment Standards Act to better protect workers’ rights, a good quality of life is finally in sight for many families. This year’s living wage calculations show that good policies are having an impact.

But while the living wages are lower in 2019, much still needs to be done. Rent continues to be the most expensive item in the living wage budget and vacancy rates remain near-prohibitively low in most BC communities. Many families struggle with long wait lists for child care spaces, or no accessible spaces at all, and $10-a-day child care is still just a dream for most families.

Costs in areas like transportation and food will continue to rise. And while the minimum wage will increase to $13.85 next month, a gap remains between the minimum wage and the living wage, particularly in high-cost communities like Vancouver and Victoria.

Moreover, the living wage methodology captures only one family type. We know that seniors, single people and families with younger children or teenagers are still experiencing challenges making ends meet.

The impact of the government’s child care spending this year shows the power of good public policy to improve standards of living. By showing this same commitment in other policy areas, particularly housing, food and transportation, the government can ensure that all British Columbians are able to thrive.

This piece originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

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