Prince George has become more expensive than Kamloops and Nanaimo, according to a study released Thursday by Living Wage For Families BC.
The report estimates that in Prince George the living wage (the hourly wage required for two adults working 35 hours per week to support themselves and two children) has climbed to $21.19, as compared to Kamloops ($19.14) and Nanaimo ($20.49).
Greater Victoria is now B.C.’s most expensive major city, with a living wage estimated at $24.29. It surpassed that of Metro Vancouver ($24.08), Powell River ($23.33), Fernie ($23.58), Cowichan Valley ($23.53), Prince Rupert ($22.69) and Kelowna ($22.08). Haida Gwaii ($25.87) and Golden ($25.56) top the list of all B.C. municipalities in the report.
“We’ve been calculating the living wage since 2008 and this is the highest we’ve ever seen, and it’s also the highest percentage increase across the province we’ve ever seen,” said Anastasia French, Living Wage for Families provincial manager.
“With general inflation shooting up to a 40-year high this year, and with the cost of food rising even faster and rent increasing everywhere, especially for families that need to move and are no longer protected by rent control, it’s not surprising to see such big increases this year.”
None of the cities in this year’s study have a living wage that’s close to the $15.65 minimum wage in B.C.
Alberta has also released its 2022 living wage rates – Calgary ($22.40), Edmonton ($21.40), Red Deer ($19.65, Lethbridge ($20.30), Grande Prairie ($19.65) and Fort McMurray ($22.50).
In Ontario, the 2022 rates are: Greater Toronto ($23.15), Ottawa ($19.60), Hamilton ($19.05), and London ($18.05), while in Manitoba, Winnipeg is at $18.34 and Brandon is at $15.66. Rates for Saskatchewan, Quebec and the Maritime provinces have yet to be released.
In 2018, Prince George’s living wage was $16.56. This year’s rate represents a 27.9 per cent increase over the 2018 estimate.
A living wage will cover the necessities to support two young children and their development with enough left over to allow the family to participate in social, civic and cultural activities in their communities.
Soaring costs for housing, utilities, food, transportation, childcare, clothing and other merchandise have raised living wage rates across the country.
Part of the reason Prince George’s living wage is higher than the two similar-size cities, Kamloops and Nanaimo, is the cost of transportation and the study determined Prince George families with two kids need two vehicles.
“We’ve changed the methodology in Prince George slightly to include the cost of a family owning two used cars, rather than a car and transit pass, because our community partner felt that the transit isn’t sufficient for a family of four to get by without two cars,” said French.
French said Prince George was excluded from the 2020 and 2021 living wage study because the data on housing costs supplied by Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation did not include the nearly 10,000 rental units in the city that are privately leased . That skewed the data to show the living wage estimate was actually lower than the minimum wage.
More people are on the move or have been evicted from their rental homes, which means they are no longer protected by rent controls that limit annual increases for tenants to a maximum of two per cent.
“In 2015, 30 per cent of families had to move in the previous year and I saw something in this year’s census that showed that 40 per cent of families this year have had to move,” said French. “More families are moving than ever before and I’m wondering if that’s because rents are hiking up and more families are being evicted.”
The data used to determine the cost of rent is an average of people who have stayed in their homes and people who are looking for rental accommodation. In Prince George the cost of a three-bedroom place was set at $1,288 per month, which French admits is low, compared to what most renters are having to pay each month. In Kamloops and Nanaimo the organization estimates the cost for a three-bedroom unit is $1,600 per month.
The monthly food cost for a family of four in Prince George in October, when the survey was conducted, was $1,120, as compared to $1,200 in Nanaimo and $1,000 in Kamloops. Transportation costs account for the differences, French said
The price of food in Metro Vancouver is estimated at $1,114 per month, a spike of $161 per month or 16.9 per cent since last year. Over the past year, food has passed childcare as the second-highest expense for families, after shelter, in most communities as a result of B.C. government subsidies to make in childcare more affordable.
The cost of childcare in Prince George for one full-time child and one that needs just after-school care is about $14,400 annually (it’s $15,000 in Kamloops and Nanaimo), with some of that cost subsidized by the provincial government with the amount od subsidy determined by how much people earned in the previous year.
“What’s real interesting in Prince George is the average amount for childcare is on par with other places,” said French, “but the waiting list for childcare is so long at the moment and you have to be on a waiting list for a year or so. The spaces are just not there.”
Prince George city councillor Cori Ramsay says with food and fuel prices remaining high and no sign of housing costs dropping, Prince George will likely remain an expensive city.
“Metro Vancouver isn’t the most expensive place to live in the province anymore and with the costs to our communities for transporting goods as well as the cost of building, we’re going to see costs continue to rise and how it affects northern families is going to be a huge drastic difference,” said Ramsay, who participated in the study as a community partner.
“Personally, I think this is just the beginning of us seeing what that looks like. Prince George used to be one of the most affordable communities in the entire province to live in and that’s just not the case anymore. We’re moving into the middle of the pack and the cost of living is increasing here due to a lot of those inflationary pressures. I think the living wage has finally caught up with the true cost of living in Prince George.”
Quesnel is among 14 local governments that have adopted living wage policies for all direct staff and contract employees and require all major service providers such as janitorial, security and food service contractors to also offer a living wage. B.C. has close to 400 living wage-certified employers, two of which are in Prince George – Integris Credit Union and P.S. Pianos.