B.C.’s working poor: Meet the people whose jobs don’t pay the bills

March 24, 2017

By Vancouver Sun |

More than half a million people in B.C. live in poverty, nearly a quarter of them children whose families struggle every day to provide the basics of life: nutritious food, warm clothing and safe shelter.

The solution to improving the lives of these families is not as simple as: “Get a job.” That’s because a significant number of impoverished British Columbians are already working.

They are the working poor — people who report to their bosses each day, pay taxes, and yet don’t have enough income to cover all their bills.

A family of four is impoverished, according to Statistics Canada, if it has an annual after-tax income of $41,866 or less, including all money from government programs such as the federal child benefit payment.

B.C. has the highest rate of working poor in the country, who have a median income of just $15,000. Of Canada’s largest cities, Vancouver was second-worst with more than 100,000 low-income earners, or nearly one in 10 of the working-age population.
“Right behind (Toronto) stands Vancouver — Canada’s second richest city. In both cities, working poverty is growing faster than anywhere else in the country,” says a recent report by the Ontario-based Metcalf Foundation.

Once you remove children, post-secondary students, and young people still living with their parents from B.C.’s list of 600,000 poor, you are left with more than 450,000 working-age adults — and 40 per cent of them have jobs.

Jean-Pierre Kigonga makes $17 an hour working the night shift at a manual labour job. He and his wife, Sandrine Ekoko, are raising their two young girls in East Vancouver on his salary of roughly $30,000 (after taxes), plus $10,000 a year from the federal child benefit payments.

Ekoko has also been collecting disability payments of $819 a month (she wears leg braces and has a twisted spine following a childhood car accident), but that support will end this spring once Kigonga’s wages for the year reach $12,000 — the maximum amount a family can earn before the provincial government cuts off disability payments.

“When you take (my salary), you pay rent, insurance, gas, it is not enough,” said Kigonga. “We go to Superstore, and I say, ‘Don’t buy too much food because we need diapers.’”

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