Over 100,000 working-age people in Metro Vancouver were working but stuck below the poverty line in 2012, not counting students and young adults living at home with their parents. This is the striking finding of my new report, co-published by the CCPA, the United Way of the Lower Mainland and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.
Contrary to stereotypes about poverty being concentrated mainly in Vancouver and Surrey, the data shows the growing ranks of the working poor are spread out across Metro Vancouver. You can see how your municipality is doing by hovering over (or clicking on) on the map here.
More detailed neighbourhood maps are available on our website.
Working poverty truly is a regional problem affecting all municipalities. And its increase challenges the narrative that the best solution to poverty is for the poor to “get a job” or for various sectors to create more jobs.
Across Canada, more than one million people are working poor.
There’s something seriously wrong with our economic system when working is not a guaranteed path out of poverty. An economy failing an increasing number of its workers creates exclusion, marginalization and deep divisions in our communities. It’s a recipe for disaster, and globally we are starting to see the fallout from unfair economic policies in situations like Brexit (which many have interpreted as a revolt of the working class against a system that seem stacked against them).
Closer to home, rising working poverty demands action from all levels of government. We must take a hard look at the types of jobs being created, not just at how many jobs are out there. The province of Ontario, home of the city with the highest working poverty rate in Canada (Toronto) is currently undergoing a review of its employment standards and thinking hard about how to protect vulnerable workers in their Changing Workplaces Review. Metro Vancouver’s working poverty rate is second-worst in the country, and our government should start paying attention and streamline our own employment standards to improve the working conditions for vulnerable workers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Working poverty can be reduced and eventually eliminated with a two-pronged approach: labour market reforms to improve job quality and more generous income supports, and better public services for those caught in working poverty. The report outlines a series of recommendations for all levels of government, including action to:
- increase the minimum wage;
- strengthen employment standards;
- make sure all British Columbians have access to safe, affordable housing;
- provide access to high quality, public child care;
- make training and education more accessible to low-income earners;
- reform employment insurance;
- enhance the Working Income Tax Benefit;
- make all levels of government living wage employers.
Reducing poverty will help not just those who are poor. It affects all of us. And it’s absolutely necessary to build more cohesive, vibrant and healthy communities, communities we can all be proud to live in.