British Columbia

Working poverty in Metro Vancouver a growing widespread issue, study says

Study's author 'very surprised' to see largest increases of working poor in municipalities like West Vancouver, Coquitlam and White Rock from 2006 to 2012.

Study's author 'very surprised' by increase of working poor in municipalities like West Vancouver

Iglika Ivanova says data shows the working poor are more likely to be employed in sales or service occupations such as retail and food service. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

A new study released by a trio of advocacy groups in B.C. says working poverty is on the rise and it's spreading across Metro Vancouver.

The study Working Poverty in Metro Vancouver, found rates of working poor in the region rose from 93,200 people in 2006 to 105,600 people in 2012 based on Canadian tax filing information.

The author of the study, Iglika Ivanova from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said what she found "very surprising" was where the increases occurred and what it could indicate.

"Before the recession, poverty was more concentrated in pockets of East and South Vancouver and Surrey," she told CBC's The Early Edition. "But past the recession ... working poverty is becoming an issue in municipalities that we think of as wealthy. We're looking at high increases in places like West Vancouver and White Rock."

Largest percentage increases in working poverty rate, 2006-2012
Lions Bay 17
West Vancouver 15
White Rock 15
Coquitlam 13
District of North Vancouver 13

The study was published in conjunction with the United Way of the Lower Mainland and the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition. 

It defined working poverty as an adult between the ages of 18 and 64, who earned at least $3,000 per year but falls beneath the poverty line as determined by Statistics Canada

Iglika Ivanova, the author of Working Poverty in Metro Vancouver, spoke about her study's findings on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition on June 29, 2016. (CBC)

Ivanova said students and young adults living at home were excluded from her calculations — only those living independently were considered, to give a more conservative measure of the issue.

The problem

Metro Vancouver has the second highest rate of working poor in Canada at 8.7 per cent, just after Greater Toronto at 9.1 per cent, according to the study.

She added the numbers do not account for differentials in housing prices across the country which contribute significantly to cost of living.

The labour market is largely to blame as the "source of the problem," in particular, the growing number of "precarious jobs," argues Ivanova.

"You hear a lot in the news these days about how many jobs we created but when you look at the wages, the hours — in general, the quality of work is really going down no matter what indicator you use," she said.

Possible solutions

For things to improve, the publishers of the study believe a combination of labour reforms at all levels of government are needed.

"You can make it better by having a higher minimum wage. You can make it better by having better employment standards," said Ivanova referring to issues like scheduling and paid time off.

She pointed out the living wage in Vancouver is over $20 per hour.

Other suggestions from the trio of advocacy groups include affordable housing, creation of a $10 a day childcare program and more access to education and training for low-income earners.

With files from the CBC's The Early Edition.

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Findings from Working Poverty in Metro Vancouver


  • An earlier version of this story said calculations for 2012 were based on census files. In fact, they were based on Canadian tax files.
    Jun 30, 2016 1:52 PM PT