Over one in five Penticton youths continue to be living in a low-income household, according to new data released by Statistics Canada.
Of Penticton residents, 17 per cent were considered low income in 2015, based on the low-income measure, after tax, but when looking at local youth, that number jumps up.
Around 21.4 per cent of Penticton youth aged zero to 17 are in low-income households, while 21.8 per cent of those aged zero to five fall below the low-income threshold. That’s comparatively higher than the provincial (18.5 per cent) and national (17 per cent) rates of youth under 18 considered low income.
More broadly, Penticton’s low-income rate is also higher than provincial (15.5 per cent) and national (14.2 per cent) rates, which comes with little surprise for Penticton and District Community Resource Society executive director Tanya Behardien.
“I think the Vital Signs report that the Community Foundation has done, that whole piece around the gap between the rich and the poor continues to come up as an area for us to address as a community,” Behardien said.
“You can understand why folks here are struggling, and you look at all the higher costs of some things — housing, and the availability of those kinds of things.”
But while Behardien compares Penticton’s prices to the likes of Kamloops, where she sees a lower cost of living than Penticton, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit pointed to the Lower Mainland, where the cost of living is higher.
“The census data also doesn’t look at individual wealth rather just income which can be misleading,” Jakubeit said. “Vancouver as an example have a higher cost of living compared to Penticton so their income levels need to be higher. Some of our low income citizens own their homes so they have low overhead while others live in subsidized housing.”
But he doesn’t deny there’s a high number of people on social assistance and families and individuals struggling with poverty in the city.
“Having a lower median income level is a harsh reality that isn’t easy to overcome or fast track,” Jakubeit said. “We’ve recently began shifting our economic development initiatives to focus more on business retention and expansion vs primarily on attraction.”
He also pointed to the city’s efforts at encouraging growth through a record of new developments approved last year, with this year’s developments on track to meet or beat 2016.
But he also pointed out Penticton’s high number of people on various government transfer programs, from old age pensions to social assistance — 17 per cent of Penticton’s income is through government transfers, compared to around 11 per cent in B.C. and Canada.
Penticton’s individual median income, at $30,505 a year, also fell below the provincial ($33,012) and national ($34,204) averages, but calculations of averages rarely tell the whole story.
Taking Penticton’s heightened low-income rates and lower median incomes, Behardien said she sees a greater wealth gap in Penticton than in other cities, such as Kamloops, where she has done similar work to her work with the PDCRS.
“Look at the diversity of work options in that community and being a more resource and industrial base kind of community, there’s lots of different types of jobs,” she said. “Here, what I notice about this community is the seasonal work that tends to ramp up from May to September, and then how things sort of dry up for the rest of the year.”
While Penticton does have some diversity in its employment — manufacturing and health care are two of the highest employers in the city — Behardien points to seasonal work and a lot of tourism jobs as often insufficient for many households.
“When you really are, like many families here, or seniors, where they’re on low income, or families, where they’re working two or three jobs to make the ends meet, they’re pinched at every turn,” she said.
But the median household income is where Penticton’s numbers really lag behind the province and country. In Penticton, the median household income was $54,219 before tax, compared to $69,995 in B.C. and $70,336 in Canada.
That reflects a similar discrepancy in 2005, when the median Penticton household brought in $12,000 less than the national median household income of nearly $54,000.
Penticton, B.C. and Canada have all seen individual incomes increase over the past 10 years, even when accounting for inflation. While inflation went up 18.9 per cent between 2005 and 2015, the average income went up by 34 per cent in Penticton and Canada and 33 per cent in B.C.
But while household incomes also went up, when one calculates for inflation, those numbers fall short in the municipal, provincial and national level.