Despite having all the amenities of a Northern hub community, Yellowknife remains the most expensive of the NWT’s four largest communities for basic necessities, according to a recent report by Alternatives North.
The social justice coalition published its most recent report on the costs of basic necessities and the livable wage across the territory on March 30.
The report uses three “reference households” to estimate the costs of necessities: A family of four with two parents who work full-time, a household with one child and one full-time parent, and a single adult who works full time.
With housing and childcare costs driving up the overall cost of necessities in the territory’s capital, Yellowknife is more expensive to live in than Hay River, Inuvik and Fort Smith.
According to the report, housing in Yellowknife yearly costs an average of about $24,900 for a family of four, $21,500 for a single-parent household, and $18,600 for a single person.
Childcare is similarly more expensive in Yellowknife than any of the other major communities, at about $17,700 an average for a family of four and about $12,000 for a single-parent household. In the next-most expensive community, Hay River, these figures are $16,500 and $11,400, respectively.
Despite Yellowknife’s high overall cost of necessities, it continues to be cheaper than each of the other three major communities in a number of respects, including food, clothing and footwear, and general household expenses.
Although the cost of living has long been higher in the NWT, and the North more generally, than the national average, this year the costs of necessities in the four largest communities actually went down slightly; Ben McDonald of Alternatives North says this is mainly because of increased government supports, particularly the Child Tax Benefit.
Because of these higher costs, Yellowknife also has the highest living wage of the four communities according to the report: $23.28 for a family of four, $26.48 for a single-parent household, and $24.05 for an individual.
These expenses are somewhat offset by Yellowknife having the highest average before-tax annual income for all three household types: $90,800 for a family, $52,000 for a single-parent household, and $47,000 for a single person.
McDonald says a universal basic income would alleviate much of the financial burden on NWT residents, as well as greater access to social and affordable housing. “The big areas where the where the costs [are high] are housing and food. So any programs that would provide reduce the costs for that would would be helpful, but the easiest thing probably would be the implementation of a basic income.”
Alternatives North is currently working on a similar report for the NWT’s smaller communities. McDonald says this is a challenge because many smaller communities don’t have retail outlets that can make determining the costs of everyday necessities easy. “There’s a really restricted rental housing market, there’s there’s very few are some in some of the smaller communities, no place to buy clothes, no place to buy food, or at least very limited,” he says.