Posted on 09 February 2009Last in a seven-part series by Vibrant Abbotsford on Poverty in Abbotsford. Of all the myths we have highlighted its is perhaps the most glaringly untrue -
Myth #7: There’s nothing you can do.
Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce and United Way we are running a seven part series on Poverty in Abbotsford provided by Vibrant Abbotsford.
Abbotsford has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. The population expanded by 7.2 per cent between 2001 and 2006, higher than the provincial average.
Figures like these can easily mask the ongoing problem of poverty in Abbotsford. Despite recent growth, many people continue to struggle to make ends meet. The increase in low paying (often part time) service sector jobs, and the rising cost of living – for fuel, food, and housing – are acute concerns. This series explores common myths about the standard of living in Abbotsford. What follows is a brief overview intended to shed some light on the poverty in our midst.
According to Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) definition of poverty, a household is poor if it spends at least 20 per cent more than the average Canadian household on basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter.
The average expenditure on these basic necessities is estimated to be 43 per cent of after tax income. By these standards, a family is “poor” if it spends 63 per cent of household income on basic needs. In 2006, approximately 545,000 people in BC were classified as living in poverty.
Myth #1: People living in poverty do not have jobs.
In 2001, there were 653,300 working poor people in Canada. Including dependants, 1.5 million Canadians were affected by working poverty, of which about one third were children. These 1.5 million individuals accounted for about 40 per cent of all low income Canadians in 2001.
In a recent report, 13.1 per cent of food bank clients in Canada listed their primary source of income as wages, or employment income.
For a single parent with one child, the parent would have to work full time, and earn between $10.64 and $12.44 hourly (depending on city size) in order to be above the poverty line. Even for a single person working full-time, the hourly wage would have to be between $8.55 and $9.90 (again depending on city size). Given BC’s minimum wage of $8 an hour, anyone supporting themselves or a family on minimum wage would be under the poverty line.
In a recent study of the homeless in the Fraser Valley, almost half of the respondents (48.6 per cent) claim that the reason for their homelessness relates to the issue of affordability / inadequate income. Many of these homeless people represent extreme examples of the working poor.
Myth #2: A strong economy means that Abbotsford’s population is wealthy.
Although Abbotsford is one of the fastest growing municipalities in Canada (7.2 per cent between 2001 and 2006), too many are being left behind.
Abbotsfordians have an average individual income of $31,733 (2006): the widening gap between rich and poor is demonstrated through the fact that the income share of the bottom half (or poorest) of households is 24 per cent (i.e. 24 per cent of Abbotsford’s household income accrues to households earning less than the median income).
The incidence of low income families is nearly 11 per cent, with 1.6 per cent of the population on Income Assistance.
Average household incomes in Abbotsford range from $63,321 for a married household to $32,138 for the average female-lead single parent household. Single parent families headed by men earned $36,296. Single parents, especially the 4,015 female-lead families, are among the most disadvantaged groups in Abbotsford.
The median income for a full-time, full year worker in Abbotsford was $39,790 but a person working full-time at minimum wage earns less than $17,000 annually. BC has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada for the last five years (21.9 per cent). Average incomes for families living in poverty were more than $11,000 below the poverty line.
Myth #3: Full time workers earn enough to support themselves and their families.
The increased demand and rise in rental prices means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for low-income people to secure housing. A recent study concluded that a “In Abbotsford, a worker must make a minimum of $8.65/hour to afford a bachelor apartment.
A one bedroom requires $10.77/hour; a two bedroom requires $13.54/hour; and a three bedroom requires $15.19/hour.
As the minimum wage is $8.00/hour, this means that it requires 1.1 workers to pay for a bachelor suite, 1.3 workers to pay for a one-bedroom, 1.7 workers to pay for a two-bedroom, and 1.9 workers to pay for a three–bedroom”.
It requires 1.1 workers to pay for a bachelor suite.Myth #4: Self-employed people are wealthy professionals.
Self-employed people are at a greater risk of working for low wages than salaried workers. On average, self-employed people are as poor as the non-working poor.
- If they are dependent on one employer, and the employers treat them as private contractors, as for example pizza drivers and newspaper carriers, then the workers have almost no rights such as the provision of benefits, the maintenance of working conditions, or the provision of any forms of job rights.
In Abbotsford 13 per cent of the labour force, or 8,535 people, were self-employed in 2006.
Myth #5: Poverty is only an issue for the poor.
On every measure of academic attainment, Abbotsford falls behind the provincial average. Fewer Abbotsford residents complete high school, get a grade nine education, or go to university. In 2001, only 11.4 per cent of Abbotsford’s population had a university degree, compared to 17.6 per cent in BC.
Over 17 per cent of Abbotsford’s population aged 25-64 have not completed high school, while 9.8 per cent of the population has less than a grade nine education.
The main reason for this is an inability to cope with the requirements of school life which may be caused by the challenges (many related to finances) that the student has at home.
Youth who do not complete their high school education are more likely to end up in low paying jobs and to experience repeated spells of unemployment.
Fewer Abbotsford residents complete high school, get a grade nine education, or go to university.
Myth #6: If the economy stays strong, the situation will improve.
Since the mid-1990s BC’s, and indeed much of Canada’s, economy has boomed.
These barriers represent acute problems for young people just entering the labour force, for new immigrants, and for visible minorities.
Since the mid-1990′s the top 1 per cent of Canadian earners enjoyed a 113 per cent increase in their annual incomes; by contrast, the average worker earned an increase of just 7 per cent.Experts argue that family economic security prior to age six and access to quality child-care are closely related to a child’s level of “developmental readiness” for school.
After years of struggling to make ends meet, many seniors continue to work after they reach the age of retirement. Most working seniors prefer to take part-time jobs, although 23 per cent report that full-time employment is not available.
We continue to see citizens struggling to meet their basic daily needs: families at the food bank, children going to school without a nutritious breakfast, and mothers sacrificing their own needs to ensure that their sons and daughters have the basic supplies that the education system requires.
These issues cannot be remedied by stop-gap solutions.
Myth #7: There’s nothing you can do.
There are a number of ways that you can make a difference in the community:
Here’s what you can do:
Donate to the United Way of the Fraser Valley, specifying ‘Vibrant Abbotsford’ as the recipient of your gift, which will support long-term community-based initiatives to reduce poverty in Abbotsford. Call 604.852.1234. In-kind donations of time and talent are also more than welcomed.
Volunteer in your community.
Email Vibrant Abbotsford at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or to register for an upcoming Vibrant Abbotsford public update session. Learn about current projects and initiatives for reducing poverty in Abbotsford so that you can get directly involved.
Use your voice. You have the power to educate others about the realities and complexities of reducing poverty in Abbotsford.
Offer job / literacy training or employment to people who are unemployed, or encourage your employer to do so.
Consider how you treat people. Think about the underlying conditions that make people vulnerable to economic distress. Remember that there are many different groups of Abbotsford residents living in poverty.
- Learn more about poverty in Abbotsford at