Stagnant wages, increasing living costs and diminishing small town employment opportunities have helped create a growing underclass of ‘working poor’ in North East Victoria.
Of those experiencing poverty in North East towns, between 26 and 44 per cent are struggling while employed, a Victorian Council of Social Service report found.
Council chief executive Emma King said the data busted the myth that having a job was a guaranteed pathway out of poverty.
Myrtleford, Benalla and Wangaratta were the most in need regions, with 15 per cent of people living in those towns living in poverty.
Of the Myrtleford residents in poverty, 44 per cent worked either part or full-time, as did 26 per cent of those below the poverty line living in Benalla, and 37 per cent in Wangaratta.
In the wider Benalla and Wangaratta regions, the percentage of people experiencing poverty while working increased to 35 and 37 per cent respectively.
About 2300 people in Wodonga and 1500 in West Wodonga are living in poverty, despite 28 and 26 per cent of them having a job.
Beyond Housing chief executive Celia Adams said regional areas were often touted as more affordable than their city counterparts, but for the working poor this was not true.
“There’s a myth life is so much more affordable in rural and regional areas,” she said.
“Yes, rentals might be more affordable but when you have to travel for health care, employment, education – that has an impact on the cost of living for families, especially the working poor.”
Smaller towns are not immune from the ‘working poor’ phenomena, with 35 per cent of people living in poverty in Yackandandah employed part or full-time, 37 per cent in Moira, 31 per cent in Rutherglen and 33 per cent in Bright and Mount Beauty.
Ms Adams said the casualisation of the workforce, as well as increased cost of living, and the low rental vacancies all contribute to the North East’s high rate of ‘working poor’.
She said a lack of employment opportunities in rural and regional areas, especially smaller towns, meant people were often underemployed or forced to travel significant distances to work and therefore affected by the rising petrol prices.
In Beechworth and Yarrawonga 26 per cent of people living in poverty work, while in the Chiltern and Indigo Valley region that figure rises to 31 per cent.
Ms Adams said Beyond Housing had two programs focused on assisting people with seeking or maintaining private rentals, which helped many working people.
“As the cost of living rises so too will the amount of people seeking help,” she said.
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