Globe and Mail

Poverty rates dropped in 1998: report

Globe and Mail Update with Canadian Press
Friday, December 15, 2000

Canada's thriving economy is finally affecting the least fortunate, albeit slightly, the National Council of Welfare reported Friday.

Poverty rates dropped somewhat between 1997 and 1998, the council said. The 16.4 per cent rate in 1998 — 4.9 million people — was the lowest since 1992.

Council chairman John Murphy was pleased but cautious with the figures.

"It's encouraging... still it's totally unacceptably high at 16.4 per cent."

But he added, "As the economy has moved, the poor have not had a part in that economy."

Mr. Murphy said that the $42-billion federal deficit was partly to blame for decreased funding in social programs, and now, the budget surplus should be used to benefit the poor.

The council, a citizens' advisory group to the Minister of Human Resources Development, determines the prevalence of poverty using Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off figures. Those numbers in turn are generated by considering how many people spend disproportionate amounts of their income on food, clothing and shelter. The 1998 statistics are the latest available and the numbers vary from place to place. For a family of four living in a city of more than 500,000 in 1998, the cut-off was $32,706. For a similar family living in a rural area, the cut-off was $22,264.

Some of those included in the study were on welfare, while others could be classified as the "working poor" — employed but still below the poverty line.

Mr. Murphy said the numbers of those who are well below the cut-off amount have increased, with 233,000 families and 463,000 single people living on half the amount.

The report found poverty rates for single-parent mothers and their children was shockingly high at 54.2 per cent. Mothers who are 25 and younger have an 85 per cent risk of poverty, the council chairman said.

As well, "about one in five children was poor," Mr. Murphy said. "That is hard news to swallow as the rest of the country prepares to enjoy a holiday season after yet another year of economic prosperity."

He noted that the Commons passed an all-party resolution in 1989, vowing to wipe out child poverty by 2000.

"We never imagined that we would be standing here, two weeks before the end of 2000 announcing that child poverty has gone up, not down." He said there were 1,327,000 poor children in 1998 compared to 934,000 in 1989.

The picture was brighter for seniors. In 1998, their poverty rate was 17.5 per cent, down sharply from 1980, when 33 per cent of seniors were considered poor.

Mr. Murphy said senior poverty levels fell because all levels of government committed themselves to attacking the problem with funding programs — and the same approach should be taken to reduce child poverty.

"On the positive side, there's the Child Tax Credit that is increasing support for families."

Mr. Murphy also said the there is a need for improved programs to help people work their way out of poverty, including education and daycare for children three to five to help them once they get to school, training programs for the working poor, and more affordable housing.

Web Sites:

National Council of Welfare statistics
Human Resources Development Canada
Welfare Reform in Canada
Welfare and Poverty links

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