National Council
of Welfare
Canada Conseil national
du bien-étre social



Poverty rates in Canada dropped slightly between 1997 and 1998, the National Council of Welfare said in a report published today. The poverty rate of 16.4 percent for 1998 was the lowest since 1992, indicating that Canada's poor may finally be benefiting from the economic recovery.

"We are very pleased to be able to announce such good news," said John Murphy of Canning, Nova Scotia, the chairperson of the Council. "On the other hand, the improvements are very modest. Seven years after the last recession is a long time to wait."

"This is good news, but it is not cause for celebration. We need to see sharper and quicker improvements in the lives of the least advantaged people when good times come to the rest of the country."

The report points out several areas that are particularly worrying:

Most poor people lived far, far below the poverty line in 1998. The number of people living on less than half the poverty line increased from 143,000 families in 1989 to 233,000 families in 1998, and from 287,000 single people in 1989 to 463,000 single people in 1998. For a family of four in Toronto, for example, the poverty line is only $32,706, so families are surviving, somehow, on total incomes of $16,353 or less a year or $1,363 a month.

The poverty rates of single-parent mothers and their children are shockingly high. The poverty rate of all single-parent mothers was 54.2 percent, and for single-parent mothers under 25, the rate was 85.4 percent.

Poverty among young people has grown. In 1989, the poverty rate for families with heads under 25 was 28 percent, but in 1998, it was 43.3 percent. Young, unattached people under 25 saw their poverty rates shoot from 47.8 percent in 1989 to 60.7 percent in 1998.

The poverty gap, or amount of money it would take to raise all poor people out of poverty, was $17.9 billion.

The situation for seniors continues to be a bright spot in this bleak picture: their 1998 poverty rate was 17.5 percent, a significant improvement from their situation in 1980 when their poverty rate was 33.6 percent. These improvements are a direct result of the actions of several levels of government over the last generation.

"Almost 5 million people were poor in Canada in 1998. About one in five children was poor. 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."

"By the end of 2000, we thought we would see some action on the House of Common's 1989 all-party resolution to end child poverty by the end of this year. That has not happened, but we have some recommendations for the new year and the years to come"

"The new federal government is in the enviable position of being able do something about this. With enormous government surpluses and a new mandate, the federal government could make a concerted effort to improve the situation facing poor people," said Mr. Murphy.

"There is certainly no easy solution, but the National Council of Welfare has several suggestions. Obviously, the social supports that governments provide for low-income people need a significant reinvestment from all levels of government. We also want to see improvements in the policies that should be there to support people trying to work their way out of poverty."

"The National Council of Welfare recommends improvements to minimum wages so that full-time workers can be assured that they make it over the poverty line. Even a single person working full time at minimum wage could not make it to the poverty line anywhere in Canada in 1998. Parents need a comprehensive system of quality, affordable child care that covers their work and school hours so they can find and keep the jobs that will get families out of poverty."

Poverty Profile is a regular publication that uses Statistics Canada's Survey of Consumer Finances and Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics to track the changes in poverty rates in Canada.

The National Council of Welfare is a citizens' advisory group to the Minister of Human Resources Development.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:

National Council of Welfare, 2nd Floor, 1010 Somerset Street West, Ottawa K1A 0J9

Telephone: (613) 957-2961