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Rising Costs And Stagnant Wages Leave B.C. Wallets In Sorry State

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It's National Payroll Week. Regrettably, celebrations do not include an extra paycheque.

British Columbians may even be wondering what there is to celebrate at all.

According to the Canadian Payroll Association's survey of employed Canadians released in advance of this week's festivities, 53 per cent of British Columbians reported that "it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by even a single week."

Alec Milne of research firm Framework Partners noted that "the data suggests that household income growth has stalled and real incomes have actually declined when inflation is taken into account."

In 2014, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, the median income for an individual in B.C. was $31,610, compared to the national median of $32,790.

The percentage of British Columbians earning below $25,000 was 41.6 per cent, or 1.469 million individuals. Add in those earning up to $49,999 and 69.2 per cent earned below $50,000.

B.C.'s Seniors Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, raised the alarm this July over the fact that senior families saw their annual median income fall 5.7 per cent and single seniors by 6.3 per cent (over 2013).

vancouver for sale
A home for sale, center, listed for $1.4 million, stands in East Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver has long been one of the world's most expensive places to live but price gains have reached a whole new level of intensity this year. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Then there's the side of the ledger that hasn't stalled: living expenses.

In April 2010, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in B.C. was $876 and $983 for a two bedroom.

In 2015, the respective rents were $973 and $1,136, an increase of 11 and 15.6 per cent, respectively. The cumulative increase in the consumer price index (CPI) was nine per cent.

Now try finding one. The vacancy rate over the same period fell from 3.1 to 1.8 per cent, despite an increase of 4,229 units across B.C. In the "we didn't say that, did we" department, RBC Economics reported in 2010 that increases in its Housing Affordability Index for B.C. "(signaled) that home ownership is really testing the limits of B.C. households' budgets. Very poor affordability is likely to restrain demand in the period ahead." Back then, the average price for a standard condominium in the Vancouver area was $388,800 and $688,600 for a single-family detached bungalow. In June, RBC reported that the average condo price had risen by 26.82 per cent to $493,100 and the bungalow by more than 100 per cent to $1.38 million. In 2011, B.C.'s Provincial Health Services Authority reported that the cost of a standard "nutritious food basket for a family of four (was) $869 per month." By 2015, it had risen 12.1 per cent to $974 per month (cumulative CPI 6.1 per cent). Then there are those "just a few dollars a month more" regressive tax hikes the B.C. government likes so much. They add up.
It would do well to remember that [any] growth is in some of Canada's lowest-paying jobs and in some of the country's priciest communities.

MSP premiums are up 31.6 per cent (2010 to 2016) to $900 for an individual and $1,800 for a family (cumulative CPI 10.4).

For an an average B.C. Hydro ratepayer using 1,000 kWh per month, their annual bill has risen by 32 per cent (2010 to 2015) to $1,235 per year (cumulative CPI 9.0).

FortisBC customers learned this week that the utility company wants to hike the cost of natural gas by a whopping 80 per cent.

Thinking of getting away from it all for a weekend?

A one-way passenger fare on B.C. Ferries between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay has risen by 25.5 per cent since 2010 to $17.20. On the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale route, the return fare has gone up by 28.2 per cent to $16.15 (cumulative CPI 10.4).

Back to one last stat from the Payroll Association's survey: 27 per cent of employees in B.C. said "they probably couldn't come up with $2,000 if an emergency arose within the next month," making them among "the most cash-strapped in the nation."

The government may like touting the fact that B.C. is on track to have the highest provincial job growth rate in the land this year, but it would do well to remember that the growth is in some of Canada's lowest-paying jobs and in some of the country's priciest communities.

As one person posted on social media in response to the last B.C. Hydro rate increase application: "The last thing people NEED is an increase in utilities! Knock off the GREED!"

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