Living Wage Week Feature #4: The Reality of Working Poverty in BC

This week, we’ve been exploring the costs facing the ‘living wage family’ in regions across BC. These analyses are helpful to understand what an average working family may be dealing with, but they still represent a hypothetical family. Today, let’s get into the reality facing low-wage families across our province.

The living wage family refers to a family with two parents, both working full time, and two young children. We assume that one child needs child care full time, and the other needs child care part time when they are not in school. The calculation includes the costs of goods and services for a family of this size, like a three-bedroom apartment and appropriate clothing and utilities. We base the living wage family on these parameters as this is the most common family type in BC, so we can capture the full range of an average family’s expenses and needs.

Based on this hypothetical living wage family, we can assess how well real families can access and afford what they need in their communities.

As we can see in the chart above, there are high proportions of two-parent families in many regions in our province who are not earning a living wage. While in some communities like the North Central Region and the Cranbrook area there are lower levels of families making below the living wage, in Metro Vancouver, Greater Trail, and Nelson there are around 30% of families not making enough to get by.

Importantly, these proportions are conservative estimates. We’ve compared the total combined income for the living wage family with the proportion of two-parent families in each income bracket in each region. That data comes from Statistics Canada’s last census, conducted in 2016, and uses income thresholds slightly below the living wage for each region.*

The living wage is a bare-bones calculation that captures the baseline for a decent quality of life in each community. If families are making below the living wage, it means they will have to make impossible choices about how to cut costs. They may have to choose between purchasing healthy food or heating their apartment, or between obtaining health insurance or getting a bus pass to access community services. In a province as wealthy as ours, no one should have to face these difficult decisions just to barely make ends meet.

What’s more, the living wage is higher than the poverty line. Using the Market Basket Measure (MBM), which is the poverty line used by the province of BC, there are approximately 557,000 people living in poverty – about 11% of British Columbians. Of those 557,000 people, about 40% are working adults earning below the poverty line, and about 18% are children.

(There is another measure of poverty, as well: the Low Income Measure, or LIM, which many of our partners and colleagues have used for many years to calculate poverty, including First Call. Poverty rates calculated with the LIM tend to be about 3% higher than the MBM.)

There is not one established definition of working poverty in BC. We think that anyone working but earning below a living wage in their community should be defined as working poor, as they are not making enough income to sustain a decent quality of life. But those who are working and below the much-lower poverty line are certainly part of the working poor, and face much more dire circumstances.  

Through our newly-launched participatory action research project, Making Ends Meet: Low Wage Work, Poverty and Healthy Communities in Vancouver, we’re hoping to learn more about the day-to-day realities of those experiencing working poverty in BC’s largest urban centre. This three-year project, funded by the Vancouver Foundation and launched in partnership with Dr. Kendra Strauss from the SFU Labour Studies Program and Morgan Centre for Labour Research, will explore how working poverty impacts the health and well-being of families and communities in Metro Vancouver. The project will also provide training and support for the working poor to advocate for themselves, and will aim to provide a better understanding to policymakers of possible responses to the issue of working poverty.

To learn more about this project and get involved, contact our Research Coordinator, Leila Trickey.

We hope this series of blog posts this week has helped provide a deeper understanding of what the living wage means in our provincial context this year. To keep the conversation going, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and contact us to chat more.



*Note that comparable data is not available for all the regions for which we calculated living wages this year.  

The Living Wage for Families Campaign thanks Becky Kelly, Assistant Project Manager and Researcher with First Call, who compiled much of the data that informed this blog series.