Costs to live in Nelson far exceed means of an average family of four: report
The city has become too expensive for a low-income family of four to live in, according to a new study conducted by the Nelson at its Best steering committee.
In drafting the city’s first poverty reduction strategy, the committee found it cost an average family of four a total of over $5,400 per month to live in the city — around $65,000 per year — costs far exceeding the amount two full-time minimum wage jobs would pay.
On Monday night at city council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting George Chandler and Jocelyn Carver from the committee — a collection of individuals and organizations concerned around health and well being of low-income citizens — delivered their report in the hope of informing future decisions by municipal government around poverty-related issues in the city.
“Even though many people love it here, Nelson is not yet the best it can be because many of our citizens are in survival mode due to poverty issues,” said Chandler.
“It’s a lovely place to live but it has its costs, literally.”
While new jobs are being created across the country and in Nelson, a significant amount of those jobs are traditionally low paying or minimum wage, and certainly below what it takes to live in the community, added Carver.
As a result, around 19 per cent of Nelson’s tax filers — 2,480 people — and their dependents are low income based on a low-income measure of earning just under $14,000 per year. Of those, 910 were working.
Using a family of four as an example, the committee calculated what it would cost per month to live in Nelson, coming up with a total of $5,430.51, with $1,345.04 being given over to shelter alone.
Child care, another big ticket item for families, cost around $1,411.50 per month, with $731.90 going towards food and transportation $471.62.
Although it takes a combined $65,000 to support a family of four comfortably in Nelson, in actuality the average family of four earns around $49,000, said Chandler, around $16,000 less than what they need to live.
The total sum of $65,000 represents what it takes to sustain a basically healthy lifestyle in Nelson with an opportunity for better circumstances over time, said Chandler.
“It would enable education savings for children, or retirement savings for individuals,” he said.
The Statistics Canada low income cut off is $28,500, which in Nelson would cover food, shelter and medical, but nothing else, the report found. Statistics Canada’s low-income lines are lower than what is required to sustain a healthy life, said Carver. Minimum wage leaves full-time workers earning below low-income lines.
With the low income line in Nelson set at $32,500, someone working full time at minimum wage — $10.45 per hour — would be $13,481 short of the line. In fact, the living wage for Nelson has been calculated at $18.21 per hour.
“The majority of low wage jobs in Canada are with large corporations, posting huge annual profits,” said Carver.
But higher wages pose difficulties for small businesses such as are the characteristic of Nelson, she added.
The problem in Nelson isn’t just about wages, said Carver. The city soars above and beyond the 13.3 per cent child poverty rates (2011) in Canada at 21.6 — with B.C.’s percentage 18.6.
In Nelson, food bank usage is up by eight per cent in 2016. B.C. food bank use grew by 28 per cent between 2008 and 2015, with 25 per cent of Canadians reporting reduced consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables due to rising prices.
Around 20 per cent of health-care spending is the result of people being financially unable to adequately maintain their health. And each dollar invested in the early years of an impoverished child’s life saves $9 of future healthcare spending.
As well, $10 invested in housing and support for homeless individuals saves $22 in health care, social services, policing and justice system spending (Canada Without Poverty).
Chandler and Carver presented the committee’s findings to city council and asked for council’s support in shifting the balance in the city.
“We need to better understand how current economic trends are impacting Nelson residents,” said Carver.
The city needs to strengthen the economic resilience of Nelson households and businesses as a result, she added.
“We would ask for your engagement at that level and whatever resources we can share and harness towards that effort we would be happy to do so,” Carver noted.
A move must be made to lobby upper levels of government for specific policies that will help the community overcome poverty, said Chandler. He said the committee believes there is potential to achieve the goals working in partnership with the city under its economic development mandate.
“We want to have more conversations with you about that and we request an opportunity to meet with city council to discuss this in more detail,” said Chandler.
Mayor Deb Kozak said the work of the committee has been monitored closely by council but wondered what the committee will do next now that the strategy report has been completed.
“I know that this is an approach that is inviting all sectors of society to participate and come to solutions, but what else have you discovered and where will you go next?” she asked.
Chandler said there are a number of sub groups working on issues, such as child poverty and the social determinants of health, and are acting on the report. The committee has hired a researcher to interview people who are living in poverty to find out what their experiences are.
“We want to bring those experiences to the group to start with … and then to the greater community,” he said.
Chandler said the committee hoped to do some public engagement around a poverty simulation and more ongoing exploration.
The committee formed two years ago and is made up of people from School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake), Interior Health Association, Columbia Basin Trust, the social service sector, from the career counselling sector and city staff.