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'It's a scary struggle': Vancouver Island families grapple with the rising cost of living

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The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released its Living Wage report. It says two full-time earners in Greater Victoria need to make $25.40 an hour in order to support a family of four.

“We’re always one pay check away from being homeless basically, which is an obscene amount of stress,” said Erika Zapata, a Langford resident.

In the Zapata household, Erika’s husband Emiliano makes a decent living, but is the sole income earner for the family of four.

“Both my kids have different needs to make it where I can’t work,” said Erika.

This family isn’t alone.

“There’s five of us,” said Marija Kulic, another resident of Langford.

Kulic says for her family, money is tight as well.

“We buy everything that is on sale,” said Kulic.

The living wage is calculated using a number of factors.

“Things like shelter, transportation, childcare, food,” said Iglika Ivanova, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

In Greater Victoria, the living wage jumped by 4.6 per cent, but that is a small increase compared to other communities on the island.

The Cowichan Valley saw a 7.1 per cent increase to $25.20 an hour. The Comox Valley saw an 8.7 per cent increase to $22.02 an hour, and the biggest jump was in Nanaimo. It saw a whopping 12.9 per cent increase to $22.87 an hour.

“What’s driving the increase in Nanaimo specifically is the big increase in the cost of rent that we recorded this year,” said Ivanova.

With remote work now being an option in many cases, people have moved to the harbour city searching for a cheaper cost of living. That has driven up rent prices.

“I think there’s a real difference between a living wage and a livable wage,” said Sam Jones, the owner of 2% Jazz Coffee in Victoria.

During the pandemic, Jones began paying a livable wage to his staff.

“There are a lot benefits,” said the coffee shop owner, mainly the retention of his staff.

Although now, Jones says he is tapped-out and can no longer keep up with the pace of inflation.

“Right now I’m paying $21.50 to $22 an hour to all my employees,” said Jones.

His labour costs are already 40 per cent of his total overhead.

“I cannot afford to keep paying more just because it’s a target number to hit,” said Jones.

“It’s absolutely difficult for businesses in some sectors to pay those wages,” said Ivanova.

The research institute says it puts out these numbers to spark a conversation about the current labour market, and to encourage government to act.

“Around actually tackling the affordability crisis in a bigger and more effective way,” said the senior economist.

For the most part, this year’s living wage increase was less than last year’s across the province. But that offers little comfort to those still struggling to make ends meet like the Zapata family.

“It is, it’s a scary struggle,” said Erika. 

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