Introducing the Ending Working Poverty Initiative

Posted on December 8, 2022
By Tamarack Institute
This blog post was written by Danya Pastuszek, Alison Homer, John Stapleton and Yvonne Yuan, in collaboration with the teams at the Town of Drumheller, the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership, the Greater Trail Community Skills Centre, United Way Winnipeg and Prosperity Roundtable Chatham-Kent.


With the working poor making up 42% of the population living in poverty within Canada, ending working poverty is a critical driver for ending it altogether. The working poor are deeply concerned about their financial futures and include those who work part- or full-time, but who still have trouble making ends meet. 

A New Partnershipbarista-najlacam-cropped

In summer 2022, Tamarack began a three-year partnership with Open Policy Ontario and five communities in Canada to reduce the depth of working poverty within each of their respective regions: 

  • Drumheller, AB
  • Trail, BC
  • Winnipeg, MB
  • Saskatoon, SK
  • Chatham-Kent, ON
We are also grateful for funding and thought partnership from the McConnell Foundation for this work.


This collaboration has been named the Building Community Resilience by Ending Working Poverty initiative (or Ending Working Poverty).

Understanding Working Poverty in Canada

Working alongside thought leaders including John Stapleton and Yvonne Yuan from Open Policy Ontario, Tamarack will support and engage these members in developing local strategies through coaching, peer networking and support for regional and/or national systems change strategies. Tamarack is also providing grants to support convening, operations, and innovation projects.

Reflecting on working poverty in Canada, John Stapleton notes: 

I have worked on big city working poverty and authored three reports on the subject in Toronto, but the working poor have vastly different profiles in small Canadian communities. Solutions that may work in Toronto and Vancouver may not work at all in smaller centres.

For example, in Toronto, there are more working poor males than females, but the opposite is the case in smaller centres. In large cities, working poverty is racialized but not necessarily in small cities.

Goals of the Initiative

The Ending Working Poverty initiative will dig into the differences between incidence and depth of poverty. While pandemic benefits were major contributors to reducing Canada’s poverty rate between 2019 and 2020, from 10.3% to 6.4%,  as these benefits are withdrawn, we expect overall rates to climb again, irrespective of the successes realized through community efforts.

Considering depth of poverty helps to counter big external factors, standardizes a progress measure across communities which have very different baselines, and allows cohort communities to work across diverse issue areas and demographic groups. It also encourages them to focus their interventions on those in deeper poverty and therefore in greatest need of support (for example in relation to those in shallow poverty who require fewer dollars to rise above the poverty line).

Population-Level Changes

The End of Working Poverty seeks population-level changes that do the following:

  1. Reduce the depth of working poverty within each community by 5%
  2. Improve the financial well-being and bankability of the working poor by increasing the availability of and access to inclusive alternative financial products
  3. Increase the number of partnerships at the community level to improve financial empowerment, employment, and training opportunities 
  4. Develop data collection strategies to understand the individual, community, and cross-community impacts 
  5. Empower and engages working poor individuals as leaders at all levels of the project 
  6. Produce successful strategies that can easily be shared and adapted throughout Canada 

The five communities convened by the project represent diverse geographies, sizes, challenges, opportunities and populations most impacted by working poverty, ultimately testing whole-community approaches to ending working poverty.

Communities in the Projectshopping-cart-markus-spiske

Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Chatham-Kent recognized that many people have jobs that do not adequately cover the cost of living. Their community experiences a cyclical spiral between "employees need more money" and businesses "unable to afford more staff to grow the business to pay more."

Chatham-Kent is developing strategies and opportunities for older adults returning to employment, for entrepreneurs to launch and grow their businesses and to invest in entrepreneurship training directed at traditionally economically marginalized populations.

Town of Drumheller, Alberta

Drumheller’s growing tourism industry creates seasonal employment opportunities that lead to employees being un- and under-employed in the shoulder season. Recognizing that the seasonality of employment exacerbates working poverty, Travel Drumheller is establishing a Destination Development Plan, which will help improve year-round tourism and, therefore, year-round employment.

A founding member of the Alberta Living Wage Network, Drumheller also plans to leverage the launch of their 2022 Living Wage calculation to engage with local businesses and new partners more deeply outside of the helping profession.

City of Trail, BC

Trail's Skills Centre is a proud living wage employer and collaborative that has been calculating living wages annually since 2016, and advocate for local businesses to become living wage employers. Their mission is to strengthen rural and industrial communities through workplace skills development, training services, social development programming, business support and bursaries for low-income women and high school graduates.

According to Project Specialist Heather Glenn-Dergousoff from the Skills Centre, “Being part of the Ending Working Poverty initiative has built engagement and excitement within our community. It has re-engaged and invigorated local service providers and frontline workers to come to the table and be part of this great work.”

City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Saskatoon’s Poverty Reduction Partnership is honing in on public policies that create and perpetuate cycles of poverty, inequity, and homelessness. They focus on the interconnectedness of income, asset building and liveable wages (e.g., through Basic Income and annual Living Wage calculations), including how people can (or cannot) acquire various income sources to create stability in their families.

A big idea they will explore how we can talk about and address asset- and wealth-building differently, noting that intergenerational wealth transfer is not a reality for many people living in poverty. Learn more about their 12 Bold Ideas to Eliminate Poverty publication here.

City of Winnipeg, Manitoba

Winnipeg’s Poverty Reduction Council supports the 92nd Call to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report (also known as TRC92), with a vision of aligning the Indigenous youth workforce to with Winnipeg's demographics.

Recognizing that it is very expensive to start a job, they are creating culturally safe workplace conditions where Indigenous young people have equitable access to jobs, ongoing training, and wrap-around supports (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial) that support successful transitions from pre-employment into ongoing employment.


A Collective Impact Approach

While no one organization or government can end working poverty, the collective impact approach at the local level provides leverage to make changes through government, business, social sector, and individual actions. The Ending Working Poverty initiative seeks to bring all sectors together locally to reduce working poverty in five communities by 5% in three years.  

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Collective Impact, Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, CRP Blogs, Homepage Blog, working poverty

Tamarack Institute

By Tamarack Institute

The Tamarack Institute is a connected force of more than 40,000 engaged practitioners and policymakers who work collaboratively to advance positive community change. Learn more here

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