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Living wage set at $17.04

If you're earning less than $17 an hour and a parent of a family of four, you're probably struggling to make ends meet.

That's according to Volunteer Cowichan and Social Planning Cowichan, which recently published the Cowichan Valley's fourth-annual Living Wage for the Cowichan Valley report.

"We know that there are many people in the Cowichan community who are not making a living wage and who continue to struggle," said Kathleen Sheppard, executive director of Social Planning Cowichan.

A living wage is the minimum hourly wage that parents need to cover their everyday expenses without taking on debt, working multiple jobs or relying on assistance, assuming each is working full-time.

Sheppard said locally, it's $17.04, down slightly but not significantly from last year's $17.53.

The living wage, calculated using a family of four, is comprised of two adults and two children, consisting of a seven-year-old in after-school care and a four-year-old in child care. The calculation takes into account housing, food, clothing, transportation, childcare and health care expenses.

The living wage's largest components are housing and childcare, which make up 42% of the model family's expenses.

The Cowichan Valley's living wage is lower than Victoria's $18.93 and Vancouver's $20.10, but is consistent with other B.C. communities like Kelowna, at $16.98, Parksville, at $17.30 and the Fraser Valley at $17.02.

Employers or companies with a social conscience who might be interested in establishing a living wage but are concerned about the financial costs might want to think about the benefits, said Georg Stratemeyer, executive director of Volunteer Cowichan.

He should know, as his organization established a living wage policy for employees within the past year. Two of his 14 employees were earning less than the living wage and their salaries were increased $1.50 an hour.

"While our labour costs have increased, in our case it wasn't a substantial amount," Stratemeyer said. "The benefits for employers is that there is less turnover, less training and employees are more invested in the company, the workplace culture is better."

He said there are other ways for employers to increase their employees' wages, including group health care and daycare.

"We'd be a better community if all the people here earned a living wage. I know not all employers can pay for it, but with some creativity, it can be done."

Those interested in learning more about the living wage can click here.

A full copy of the 2014 Living Wage Report is available for download from the Social Planning Cowichan website.

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