Working poverty on the rise in most Metro Vancouver municipalities

Study maps trends by municipality and neighbourhood
June 29, 2016

(Vancouver) Contrary to stereotypes about poverty being concentrated mainly in Vancouver and Surrey, a new study finds the growing ranks of the working poor are spread out across the Metro Vancouver region.

The study looks at working poverty pre- and post-recession, in 2006 and 2012. Rates were highest by 2012 in Richmond (10.5%), Vancouver (10%), Burnaby (9.4%), Surrey (9.1%), North Vancouver (8.4%) and Coquitlam (8.1%). The largest increases occurred in suburban municipalities like West Vancouver, Coquitlam, White Rock, Lions Bay and the District of North Vancouver.

Working Poverty in Metro Vancouver was published today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the United Way of the Lower Mainland (UWLM) and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.

“We are often told that the solution to poverty is for the poor to get a job,” says study author Iglika Ivanova, Senior Economist at the CCPA’s BC Office. “But the reality is that having a job is not a guaranteed path out of poverty.”

“We live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, let alone in Canada,” says Michael McKnight, President & CEO of United Way of the Lower Mainland. “Yet in 2012, the median family income for Metro Vancouver’s working poor was only $18,060. Families are struggling to make ends meet.”

The majority (61%) of Metro Vancouverites who are stuck below the poverty line despite having a job are of “prime working age”—30 to 54 years. Just over half of the working poor are married or living common law, and 42% have dependent children.

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.

According to Ivanova, a key driver of the growth in working poverty is a trend towards more precarious work. “We spend a lot of time talking about the number of jobs created and don’t pay as much attention to the quality of these jobs. Many of the new jobs created since the recession have been part-time, temporary and low paid, jobs that don’t support families,” she says.

“BC is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan,” says Trish Garner, Community Organizer with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. “Other places are saving lives and money by tackling the root causes of poverty rather than paying for the consequences. Working families are counting on the provincial government to do better.”

A central recommendation in the study is the development of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for BC. Key elements include a higher minimum wage, stronger employment standards, increased affordable housing, creation of a $10/day child care program and more access to education and training for low-income earners.

The federal government also has an important role to play in areas like affordable housing and child care, and should take the lead on reforming Employment Insurance and expanding the Working Income Tax Benefit.


For more information or interviews contact Terra Poirier at 604-801-5121 x229 or

Working Poverty in Metro Vancouver is available at The study is a co-publication of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC Office), the United Way of the Lower Mainland, and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.