May 9, 2014

Clarifying the difference between the minimum and living wage


A couple days ago, I submitted the following letter to the editor at the Vancouver Sun. Hopefully they will publish it shortly:

Mark Von Schellwitz (opinion piece, May 6) is right that a minimum wage and a living wage are not the same thing. But he seems to be confused about the difference. He claims the BC Federation of Labour’s call for the minimum wage to be increased to $13 an hour would make it a “living wage”. That’s incorrect, and not what those calling for an increase to the minimum wage have said.

The living wage for Metro Vancouver, as calculated by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and used to officially certifying living wage employers, is now $20.10 an hour. That’s how much parents with young children would need to earn to cover their basic expenses in the Lower Mainland. And no one has said this should be the new legal minimum wage. Rather, the living wage call is a voluntary one to employers themselves to become living wage employers. We get that this is beyond the reach of some employers, although many can and should pay it.

The call for the minimum wage to go to $13 is different. At this level, a single person working full time and full year would have an income at the poverty line (a much lower bar). If Mr. Von Schellwitz and the restaurant industry wish to defend the right of employers to pay a wage below the poverty line, they are welcome to do so. But hopefully our government will choose a different path.

Getting the minimum wage to at least that level, and then establishing a process for regular annual increases, represents an important piece of a broader poverty reduction strategy. While only a small percentage BC workers make the current minimum age, many more (including many adults and parents) earn between the current minimum wage of $10.25 and $13.

A final note: Mr. Von Schellwitz, in arguing against an increase in the minimum wage, contends both that such an increase will reduce employment and that it will result in young people dropping out of school to work for the higher wage. He may reasonably argue one or the other of these points (although he would be wrong on both scores), but he cannot argue both points simultaneously – young people cannot quit school to work for jobs that no longer exist.


Seth Klein, BC Director, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

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