September 17, 2010 Features & Images » Feature Story

When Two Jobs Aren't Enough 

Thousands in B.C. lack the full time, decent paying jobs they seek


The Tyee

Lyn is a shy mother of two, with long black hair, slim black-framed glasses and two draining jobs that even together don't give her much hope of getting ahead.

She gave up a career in China as an accountant and moved to Vancouver five years ago so that her kids could go to school in Canada. When she's not working at her brother's store on her day off, she makes $11.50 an hour putting in up to 50 hours a week at a chain grocery store on Hastings.

It wouldn't be a bad job, but paying overtime isn't one of the boss's policies, she says. She wants what she's owed but she's scared to report it. It's the same for her co-workers. None of them are happy about the way they're treated at work, but no one wants to rock the boat. For now, she chips away at the debt she acquired moving here, and pours more than half of her meager salary into rent.

Of course she wants to work as an accountant again, she says.

She has talked to the right people, she knows what it would take: language skills, time and money. Of those, she possesses not nearly enough at the moment. And though I meet Lyn at an ESL class investing still more hours to better herself, she worries she's stuck on the margins of a good life in British Columbia.

Lyn is one of thousands of largely invisible people in B.C. working two, three, sometimes more jobs in order to make ends meet, somehow piling those exhausting duties on top of caring for children and relatives while striving to gain the education needed to step up and off the low-wage treadmill.

Three years ago, the widespread nature of this tough reality in B.C. was masked by seemingly robust economic figures. In 2007 the province's unemployment rate stood at 4.2 per cent after 335,000 jobs had been created between 1997 and 2006. Beneath that surface, however, lived and worked many, many people like Lyn, as 21 per cent of women and nearly 30 per cent of men were employed in casual and non-standard work, according to a 2008 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

And then the global economic meltdown hit, causing anyone precariously employed to hang on for dear life to what they had, for fear of being kicked loose from the job market altogether.

I ask Lyn about her prospects.

"Right now I'm afraid to think about the future," she tells me.


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