We are often told that the solution to poverty is for the poor to “get a job” or for various sectors to create more jobs. But the reality is that a job is not a guaranteed path out of poverty. Many of the new jobs created since the 2008 recession have been part-time, temporary and low paid. The result is a growing group of workers living in poverty, the working poor.
Some people mistakenly believe that low-wage jobs are filled mainly by teenagers and youth, and are a rite of passage of sorts while young people still live at home. But most low-wage workers are not kids — they have families, and they get stuck in dead-end jobs that keep them in poverty. Working poverty is somewhat invisible, even though these workers are all around us. They pour our coffee in the morning and clean our offices at night. They sell us groceries, house-wares, and clothes, they greet us at reception desks and keep our concerts and public events safe. They cook and serve our food when we are celebrating with a night out and tidy our hotel rooms when we are on vacation.
Over 100,000 working-age people in Metro Vancouver were working but stuck below the poverty line in 2012, according to a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the United Way of the Lower Mainland and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. Another 73,500 working poor British Columbians lived outside the Metro Vancouver area. Across Canada, over a million workers aged between 18 and 64 were working poor. These numbers are conservative estimates, as they don’t count post-secondary students or adults living with their parents or other relatives. The true extent of the problem is likely much worse.
Among Canadian cities, Metro Vancouver has the second highest rate of working poverty (8.7% of the working-age population), after Greater Toronto (9.1%). The hardship is even more severe in these two regions than the statistics show since the measure of poverty used in the study does not account for differences in housing costs across the country.
Almost two-thirds of Metro Vancouver’s working poor in 2012 were between the ages of 30 and 54 — what economists consider prime working age (61%). Almost half of the working poor had dependent children (42%). In Metro Vancouver, single parents are the most likely to experience working poverty, followed closely by individuals living alone.
A recent Statistics Canada study showed that the poverty rate among Vancouver immigrants who have been in Canada for fewer than 15 years is double the rate of long-term immigrants and Canadian-born citizens.
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