6.4% of Canadians live below the poverty line, according to Stats Canada and the most recent numbers available from 2020.
I don’t know about you, but that number surprised me with how low it was. I was expecting at least 10%.
That percentage continually decreased over the years. So, what exactly are the Canada poverty rate and the poverty line, and how is it measured?
Canadians describe poverty as when a person or household lacks basic resources, financial or otherwise, to maintain a modest standard of living.
The measurement comes from the Market Based Measure (MBM), which considers the costs of essential goods and services for a family of four.
The rate decreased in 2019 from 10.3% to the current level, 6.4% representing over 1.4 million Canadians now above poverty levels.
According to the government, a big reason for the decrease is due to the swift response of federal emergency and recovery benefit programs implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This support helped those on the brink pull out of the poverty line. In addition, income inequality continues to fall to some of the lowest levels seen in decades.
While there is still work to do, these numerical decreases show Canadians they’re on the right track and working towards a more inclusive economy.
The government adopted the MBM in 2018 to help effectively monitor poverty from year to year, along with any initiatives aimed at reducing it.
This calculation considers the community size, location, and household composition. From there, an estimation of the disposable income needed to fit basic needs is calculated.
Canada just started using this method in 2018, so to help with comparisons, researchers performed back calculations to 2000.
In addition to the poverty line, other indicators help track progress by specific categories. They are as follows:
Dignity ensures basic needs like food, shelter, and healthcare. To help assess and track progress, here’s a breakdown of the measured indicators.
- Deep income poverty. This pillar helps identify families with disposable income below 75% of Canada’s poverty line.
- Unmet housing needs. Canadians that live in unaffordable or unsuitable housing are required for the size of their family.
- Unmet healthcare needs. To track this, Canadians reported unmet health needs within the past year.
- Food insecurity. This indicator helps track Canadians that don’t have enough money to buy food to live a healthy life.
Another pillar used to help reduce poverty, opportunity and inclusion works towards aiding the low-income to join the middle class.
- The relative low-income indicator measures Canadians living in low income.
- Bottom 40% income share. The government tracks this to measure the share of total after-tax income held by 40% of the population at the bottom of the income distribution.
- Youth engagement. This pillar measures youth from 15-24 not employed, in an educational setting, or in a training situation.
- Literacy and numeracy. This everyday indicator assesses the skills needed in reading, writing, and basic mathematics to function throughout the day.
This indicator helps to support and help build up the middle class, so they don’t fall into poverty.
- Median hourly wage. To help track income, researchers need to know the average hourly wage of Canadians.
- The average poverty gap shows the shortfall below the poverty line for those already living below it.
- Asset resilience. This indicator determines if Canadians can pull from their assets for a three-month period if they need to cover unexpected expenses.
- Low-income entry and exit rates. These rates show how low-income tax filers’ status changes from one year to the next. The calculation helps track non-low-income filers that end up as low-income filers.
There are several reasons Canada’s poverty rate dropped over the past few years. To start, the government adopted the Opportunity for All legislation which works towards reducing poverty by 50% by 2030.
This reduction strategy placed the pillars and indicators mentioned above to help monitor progress and track how the country was doing overall.
In addition, the government introduced new strategies and investments to help fund early learning and childcare, home care and mental health benefits, as well as introducing Indigenous skills and trades training and housing plans.
Over the past five years, the government spent billions intending to reduce poverty and meet its 2030 goal. That goal would help move more than 2.1 million Canadians out of poverty, based on numbers from 2015.
Factors Contributing to Poverty in Canada
In Canada, as in other nations, several key factors contribute to the prevalence of poverty:
- Income Inequality: Significant disparities in income and wealth can perpetuate poverty. In many cases, the rich continue to accumulate wealth while the poor struggle to escape the cycle of poverty. Income inequality in Canada has been a growing concern, with the richest segment of the population seeing faster income growth than the lower and middle classes.
- Unemployment and Underemployment: Lack of work, or lack of adequate work, is a significant factor contributing to poverty. Unemployment or underemployment can make it challenging to meet basic needs, let alone save money or plan for the future. In some cases, individuals may be working multiple jobs but still not earning a living wage.
- Education: Access to quality education is a significant determinant of future income. Those with less education often have fewer job opportunities and lower earning potential. Education gaps can start early and perpetuate a cycle of poverty.
- Housing Affordability: As housing prices continue to rise in many parts of Canada, affordable housing has become increasingly hard to find. High housing costs can contribute to poverty by leaving individuals with less money for other essential expenses.
- Health Issues: Health problems can lead to significant expenses and income loss due to inability to work. Furthermore, those in poverty often have less access to healthcare, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
- Systemic Barriers: Systemic issues such as discrimination and social exclusion can limit access to opportunities and resources, leading to higher rates of poverty among certain groups. For example, Indigenous peoples, racialized individuals, immigrants, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community often experience higher rates of poverty.
- Social Safety Net: The strength of a country’s social safety net, including social assistance programs, unemployment benefits, and public healthcare, can impact poverty levels. While Canada has a robust social safety net compared to many countries, gaps and inadequacies do exist.
Which province in Canada has the highest poverty rate?
Historically, certain provinces such as Manitoba and New Brunswick have tended to have higher rates of poverty, while provinces such as Alberta and Ontario often have lower rates, but these are general trends and the specifics can change year by year.
It’s also worth noting that poverty rates can vary significantly within each province. For example, certain urban areas might have higher rates of poverty than the provincial average, while some rural areas might have lower rates.
Poverty rates also tend to be higher among certain groups, such as Indigenous peoples, recent immigrants, and single-parent families.
The most recent numbers indicate that 6.4% of Canadians live below the poverty line, a decrease from years prior. While it’s great news and means Canada is moving in the right direction, there’s still work to do.
There are still inequities within the social constructs of the country, especially for those recently marginalized by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A big part of fighting poverty is a decent living wage. To find out more about Canada’s norms, check out this article about the average income by age.