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Living Wage?

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There was a lot of talk today on the CBC and other media about the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives issuing a new "living wage" value for Metro Vancouver.

A "living wage" in this context is defined as a minimal amount for two adults working full-time (40 hours a week) both have to earn to support two children above the poverty line. The value released today is $18.71. That's two people earning $18.71/hour and both working full time. This is poverty line, i.e. food, shelter, clothing, and minimal entertainment, not being able to afford to buy a house, not being able to afford to go away for vacations, not being able to save for retirement, etc.

I want to look at this $18.71 value in terms of pre-Generation-X standards, before it was expected and required for both parents to work to simply support a family, back in the days where normal meant one person supporting three others. So for one person to support another adult and two children would really mean double this value. That would mean an individual supporting a spouse and two children at the poverty line would need a full time, 40-hour a week job at $37.42 to "get by."

In the 1950's, 1960's and up to the mid-1970's an adult working at a crappy job like pumping gas, waitressing, janitor, etc. could expect pretty close to that kind of living, say enough to support a family of three. Since two adults earning $18.71 is enough to support two children it follows that one adult making $18.71 is enough to support one person, so we'll assume $9.36 is enough for one person. So for one person to support two others we get $28.07. To have the life one could earn at the $1.35 minimum wage of 1974 one would now have to make $28.07. And in case $28.07 is a bit too abstract, let's translate that to an annual salary: $58,385.60. Now look at it this way—if you are making less than $60,000/year, you are making less than your average Space-Age gas-jockey.

You know why the punks started yelling "no future" in 1977? This is fucking why! Welcome to the future.

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