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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Real wages and the standard of living in Vancouver, 1901-1929 Bartlett, Eleanor Anne


For many years the consensus- among some Canadian scholars has been that the living standards of Canadian blue-collar workers deteriorated during the early twentieth century. This erosion, in the face of economic expansion, has been attributed to the rapid population growth brought about by immigration which increased the labour supply and diluted the quality of the workforce by introducing large numbers of relatively unskilled workers. This explanation has come to be known as the displacement theory. However, recent evidence on national working class real wages has challenged this pessimistic thesis. This paper examines real wages on the smaller scale of the city of Vancouver in order to test the hypothesis that the Vancouver working class did not share in early twentieth century economic growth. In doing so it also provides one new measure of the working class standard of living in the city. According to the indexes compiled in this thesis Vancouver real wages increased some 18% to 257» between 1901 and 1929. Real wages increased until 1905 and then dropped by 1910 reaching a low point in 1911. They then increased reaching a peak in 1915 and then dropped, bottoming out around 1919 and 1920. Thereafter real wages climbed steadily to the end of the decade with slight dips in 1924 and 1925. All the evidence examined here suggests that economic growth did not wholly benefit the working class in the city. The inflation which came with rapid economic growth could often outweigh the benefits which it brought for the skilled and unskilled, the unionized and the unorganized. In addition the indexes do not contradict the argument that displacement worked to keep wages down. Vancouver workingmen may have benefited less from rapid economic expansion of the first years of the century than from more modest growth like that which occurred in the 1920s.

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