Is The Living Wage a Public Health Issue?

By Ted Bruce

While browsing on-line news recently, I stumbled across an article about protests by American fast food workers and their poverty level wages.

Janitor mopping floor

The newly calculated 2012 living wage rate for Metro Vancouver stands at $19.62 per hour. Photo Source: A Living Wage for Families (

I was reminded of calls for a living wage in BC. Living wage proponents everywhere are starting to gain more attention exactly because of the dynamics described in the article. People are working full time or even at 2 jobs and still may be unable to meet their basic living expenses. I was also struck by the similarity in the arguments by those opposed to living wage policies such as the belief that raising wages is not affordable. Although the article does a good job of debunking that myth (I love the comment on how big corporations are subsidized by food stamps for the poor), it is important for public health advocates to have a fundamental grasp of the living wage. Public health has consistently called for a variety of healthy public policies such as affordable child care. Public policies can directly affect the calculation of the living wage rate and thus the cost of a living wage to employers in any given community. When public health calls for social and income related policies that promote population health, they are in some respects contributing to the debate on the living wage. To learn more about the living wage visit: The living wage discussion raises the broader issue of the corporate determinants of health. This is a topic that is becoming more important as governments downsize and the role and power of corporations in our society increases. PHABC will soon be announcing an initiative on the corporate determinants of health so we can better understand how to advocate within this sector. Stay tuned for a blog by John Millar, PHABC’s Vice President in an upcoming blog on this topic.

Ted Bruce is the Past President of the PHABC