The working poor in Metro Vancouver

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The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning research centre, has published a report on the incidence of poverty among working people in Metro Vancouver.

The 35-page study by CCPA economist Iglika Ivanovna has major flaws as an advocacy piece, but it delivers the useful reminder that “having a job is not a guaranteed path out of poverty.”

“Metro Vancouver’s booming economy relies on a large group of low-paid workers to provide security, catering, cleaning, administration and other services,” says the report. Those earning minimum wage, even full-time, are left well below Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure. Figures from 2012 shows that every municipality in the Vancouver region accommodates a significant population of low-income workers.

2012 Low Income Measures StatsCanIn the Metro Vancouver region, Richmond had the highest incidence of working poverty in 2012, followed closely by Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey. Federal estimates indicate a spread of poverty into other areas between 2006 and 2012, with rates rising rapidly in super-affluent West Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver as well as Coquitlam.

In total, the federal cut-off puts more than 100,000 Vancouver-area working people in the low-income category. These are not students, or adults living with parents; they are independent adults trying to make a living, with or without partners. An estimated 42 per cent had dependent children in 2012. The various levels of government have created subsidies and programs for people at the low end, but access is uneven and the value of many programs sags as living costs rise.

Unfortunately, the CCPA report has serious gaps. What we learn about the poor, ultimately, is that they don’t have enough money. The reader is left to imagine the consequences for individuals — the struggle to find housing, the lack of access to education and training, the kids who lag behind their peer groups, the health impacts — as well as the costs to society.

And in fact, the author makes no effort to argue that Ottawa’s Low Income Measure is really a measure of deprivation. Friends of CCPA will take it on faith that a family living on less than x,000 dollars is at serious risk,  but other audiences may be more skeptical.

Distribution of the working poor in Vancouver and the inner suburbs, 2012. In most neighbourhoods the proportion of low-income earners in the working population is between 5 and 10 per cent; the heavier shading indicates 10 to 15 per cent.

Distribution of the working poor in Vancouver and the inner suburbs, 2012. In most neighbourhoods the proportion of low-income earners in the working population is between 5 and 10 per cent; the heavier shading indicates 10 to 15 per cent.

“Working Poverty in Metro Vancouver” offers a list of recommendations for the reduction or elimination of poverty. Many are aimed at the provincial government, including calls for a higher minimum wage, investment in social housing, the enforcement of employment standards and a $10-per-day child care program.

Payday loanThe urban development directions that are proposed on Fraseropolis.com would also support low-income workers, for example:

  • Build the frequency and reach of public transit to give low-income people more employment choices;
  • Implement federal and provincial tax changes to drive the construction of rental housing; and,
  • Design suburban cities around urban villages to give working adults, kids and seniors walkable access to recreation, personal services and shopping.

 

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