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Cost of living in Cranbrook above minimum wage, council hears

What is a livable wage for Cranbrook? A local society was in front of council on Monday, April 7, to say that the livable wage, the amount someone needs to make to meet living expenses, for Cranbrook is $14.16 an hour.

Darelyn Hutchinson, representing the Social Planning Society, talked about the project. The society initiated and completed the Living Wage Project in Cranbrook.

She was joined by Darcy Victor, a family consultant with the Poverty Reduction Initiative in Cranbrook, which is part of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The ministry is not involved in the Living Wage Project.

"It's just to bring awareness to how much it costs to live in Cranbrook and what kind of wage you need to be making to be comfortable here," Hutchinson said.

She explained that the living wage calculation is an hourly rate that reflects what people need to meet their basic expenses and support their families. It is based on the actual cost of living, rather than the minimum wage which is legislated by the provincial government.

"It's based on two full-time parents working and two children, for this purpose they are aged four to seven," she said. "And it's just minimal budget to eat and sleep and survive."

She pointed out that expenses for a family include things like childcare, shelter and food.

“Both parents need to be making that with two children in their household to be able to afford the minimal living, which is quite a bit more than our minimum wage which is $10.25 provincially,” she said.

“Obviously we can’t fix minimum wage, but just starting conversations around different ways we can maybe work on making it more livable for people in Cranbrook, like daycare and transportation and things like that.”

Cranbrook resident Amanda, last name withheld, took part in the living wage project. She is a stay-at-home mother. She and her partner have three children aged five and younger. Her husband had to find work an hour outside of town and commutes there.

“If I were to obtain employment outside of the house as well, I would have to make close to $2,000 a month to secure two full-time daycare spots and a part-time spot for our oldest,” Amanda said. “Working full-time minimum wage I would still be a few hundred dollars short each month, even if my wages weren’t taxed.”

Because there is no financially secure way for her to work, she has remained a stay-at-home mom.

She said they often have to rely on government tax credits to make ends meet.

“After paying for housing, heat, electricity, transportation, clothing, medical expenses and insurance, our family doesn’t have a lot left for food,” she said.

In 2012 she was approached to be part of the project.

She found that there are many more families like hers living in Cranbrook.

Coun. Angus Davis noted that a lot of the problem was the economy, as a healthy economy would keep unemployment around four per cent, as compared to B.C.’s 6 per cent.

He said the city needs to work to get industry jobs here.

Coun. Denise Pallesen commended Amanda.

“I know how hard it is; 10 years I was under the poverty line and you’re right, it is a rude awakening when you realize that that’s where you are,” she said.

Coun. Diana J. Scott noted that places like the UK and New Westminster in B.C. have projects like this.

Coun. Sharon Cross noted that there is a group working on a childcare needs assessment initiative and wondered if Amanda wanted to be a part of that, which she did.

Mayor Wayne Stetski said that it has been interesting the past couple of years seeing the project brought to council. He also said council has to weigh what the role of the city should be on these issues, along with the other levels of government.

“I have also talked to our CAO moving ahead; some of the larger cities now have social planners on staff, we do not have a position like that on city council,” he said, adding that it would be a position that staff could refer social issues to.

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