24 June 2008

Big Box Boom

Michael Watkins, president of the Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, was reported in the Cowichan News Leader as saying that more jobs are being created in the Cowichan Valley and "this keeps money in our area."

"It’s a circle," he enthused, "and can be a win-win for everyone.”

This statement and the supporting statistics cited in the article are misleading.

True, Statistics Canada has shown valley unemployment dropping from eight percent in 2000 to 4.5 percent in 2006.

True, Cowichan’s wholesale/retail labour force increased by 12.5 percent between 2001 and 2006.

True, the Valley's median family income went from $20,483 to $24,457 between 2000 and 2005.

False, that these facts mean the average Valley resident is better off.

What the figures hide is a growing inequality between the haves and have-nots, a growing underclass of workers who work for poor wages, and an upper-middle and wealthy class which are served by them.

The figures hide that Canada has been in the midst of an economic boom, begun in late 2005, which has seen the cost of housing, transportation and food outstrip, in percent, the rise in median income.

Property values in BC between 2005 and 2006 alone shot up by 24 percent. In the meantime, the rental vacancy rate in Duncan went down in 2007 to 1.3 percent.

These realities disproportionately affect the working poor, most of whom are employed in the retail sector. The boom has left them and other low-income residents further behind, not ahead.

And a growing number of the middle class are teetering on the brink with them.

Regarding the increase in senior residents, while seniors tend to travel outside the area less and do their shopping locally, they also are less likely to be spending big bucks here.

Canadian seniors, as a group, are not known to be affluent.

Our wealthiest new residents don't work here. They are more apt to be employed in Victoria and other large centres, and are unlikely to have jobs in retail with the exception of upper management. They earn their income from outside the area and spend it here on general household needs where, for them, prices are more affordable.

The Valley's burgeoning consumer-oriented employment sector, therefore, while great for local business owners and their suppliers, only increases the economic divide among our residents.

For solutions, look to attracting more business in other employment, non-service, sectors.

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