April 17, 2000
Urban Poverty in Canada: A Statistical Profile
Urban Poverty in Canada brings a novel perspective to the study of poverty in Canada by examining it at the local level and comparing the situation in cities across the country. Using data from the 1996 Census and Statistics Canada's Low Income Cut-offs to measure poverty, the study demonstrates that substantial differences in income exist within and among Canadian communities.
The Low Income Cut-off (LICO) Measure
For the purposes of the report, poverty is defined using Statistics Canada's before-tax Low Income Cut-offs (LICOs). Statistics Canada refers to people with incomes below the LICO as living in "straitened circumstances." Most people who comment on poverty agree that living in straitened circumstances in a wealthy country such as Canada constitutes relative income poverty. The author agrees with that perspective, and believes that the use of the LICO to measure poverty, in this report and elsewhere, is entirely appropriate. The LICO has many benefits. It is a fair and valid measure, consistently defined over time. It is adjusted for inflation, changes in Canadian spending patterns, household size and community size. The LICO measures the amount of income that it takes to live and participate as a citizen in Canada. As well, strong evidence suggests that children raised on incomes below the LICO are at risk of less healthy development.
The LICO is also a good indicator of the public's perception of poverty. Gallup Canada, administrators of the Gallup Poll, have surveyed Canadians since 1976 on their views of income adequacy. Gallup asks a sample of adults, "What do you think is the least amount of money a family of four needs each week to get along in this community?" Gallup results (adjusted to reflect annual inflation) and the LICO have been reliably close for more than two decades. The statistics presented here indicate that many Canadians are struggling to support their families and to participate as full citizens.
1996 Census data
The main sources of data used in this report are custom tabulations of the 1991 and 1996 Censuses, and income data from these sources refer to 1990 or 1995 pre-tax income. This represents the very latest information available for local level comparisons. Since 1995, the overall labour market has improved, but budget cuts to income security programs have deepened. Indicators such as metropolitan unemployment rates and shares of full-time employment suggest that improvements in the labour market between 1995 and 1998 have been uneven. The latest data at the national level indicate that poverty rates declined only slowly. Many of the groups with the highest rates of poverty - such as recent immigrants, single parents, Aboriginal people and the elderly - are those least likely to have benefited much from improvements in the economy in the late 1990s. For these groups, poverty rates from the early 1990s may have changed relatively little.
Urban Poverty in Canada: A Statistical Profile - Related Material
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