By David F. Rooney
The long-waited Living Wage for Revelstoke, BC: Economic Impact Assessment Report is now online for review by members of the public.
The 35-page report, compiled by Kenneth Carlaw, Mike Evans, Lindsay Harris, and John Janmaat of the Institute for Community Engaged Research at UBC Okanagan and published on the Community Futures website, ultimately suggests that a living-wage program here could have wide-ranging effects.
“The project was conceived in the context of ongoing discussions in the Revelstoke community around the need for poverty reduction strategies, in part arising from a sharply rising cost of living associated with real estate and rental markets and the growth of tourism,” they said in the report’s executive summary.
The report starts with a familiar fact — that $18.87/hour is minimum amount of money calculated for Revelstoke in 2015 as a living wage. However, an initial attempt to build an acceptable living-wage initiative met with concern from the small business sector of the community. Consequently, a partnership with UBC Okanagan was created to develop a model to better understand the impacts on this sector.
“While benefits are very hard to measure, there was wide agreement that a living wage would be beneficial to low wage earners, and allow greater effective inclusion of currently marginalized people in the Revelstoke community,” the report says.
“While the likely Revelstoke-wide impact of a living wage on total wage costs in Revelstoke are quite small, cross sector differences in the consequences for businesses implementing a living wage emerged as a key issue in consultations and indeed, in the data available.
“Businesses in the food and beverage, accommodation, and retail sector of the Revelstoke economy would face the most significant challenges.”
The study also noted that research has involved the creation and use of a number of interactive tools that can be used to help people assess the impact on a sector-by-sector, business-by-business basis. It does that by allowing stakeholders to accurately calculate the consequences of a living wage on business conditions and to include their own assessment of the potential impact of increased prices, customer loyalty, employee productivity, and other multiplier effects.
These tools also allow for consideration of the social benefits of poverty reduction in the context of their economic impact, and provide community stakeholders with a means “for a more nuanced and detailed deliberative process.”
The report noted that while Revelstoke remains one of British Columbia’s top places to live, the rising cost of living combined with increasing housing prices and property taxes have reduced the economic security of residents.
“As a result, a growing number of community members are experiencing social exclusion as they struggle to meet their own basic needs, negatively affecting community cohesion and stagnating the local economy,” the report’s authors said. “In addition to threatening community stability and identity, Revelstoke’s increasing unaffordability has made it more difficult to retain residents long-term and attract new ones.”
Poverty reduction has long been identified by community members as a high priority, and the community is one of the first of its size to adopt a poverty reduction strategy.
“The main goal for Revelstoke is to improve income security, allowing every resident to maintain a decent standard of living and to participate fully in the community with dignity,” the report says. “The strategy seeks to build relationships among businesses, the government, non-profit leaders, and residents while also forming a multi-sector poverty coalition to address issues and raise awareness.”
It noted that earlier studies by researchers such as Social Development Coordinator Jill Zacharias and Mike Brown argued that a living-wage initiative may be a critical first step in achieving income security and social inclusion.
In conclusion, the authors of the report said:
“Using the existing data, calculations indicate the likely effect of a living wage on the total Revelstoke labour costs to be relatively minor overall, but potentially very disruptive to particular sectors and firms. These disruptions are potentially mitigated by increases in prices, productivity, and consumption, but the firm by firm or sector by sector calculation of the economic and social impacts require too many assumptions to be helpful. Nonetheless, the inclusion of stakeholders in an economic modelling process, and policy development past and present is helpful, in part because it supports the development of a critical mass of informed and engaged citizens.”