Two of the big gaps in our knowledge of Canada's social safety nets are how often
people rely on welfare and the length of each "spell" on welfare. A younger, able-bodied person
might wind up on welfare for a few months at a stretch every few years when jobs are harder
to get. An older person with chronic disabilities might find that welfare is the only realistic
source of income year after year. Tracing patterns of welfare use over the course of a person's life is difficult to do,
especially as the composition of family members changes and people move from one province
to another. The welfare database uses the next best alternative by reporting data on the length
of a person's current spell on welfare or the amount of time the person had been on welfare
continuously as of the time the data were collected. At the one end of the scale are people whose current period of time on welfare was three
months or less. Some of them were undoubtedly on welfare for the first time in their lives,
while others had relied on welfare sometime in previous years as well. At the other end of the
scale are people whose current spell on welfare was for more than two years. Many of these
people were no doubt out of the paid labour force for many years, but the database does not
record spells of welfare for specific periods of time longer than two years. The database shows very few differences in spells on welfare from one family type to
the next, but there are huge differences when spells on welfare are compared to reasons for
assistance. Cases with job-related reasons for assistance tend to have short spells on welfare,
while welfare cases arising from disabilities tend to last longer. The database also shows a rise in long-term cases in the years after 1990. Shorter-term
cases appear to rise in bad economic times and fall in good times. However, the longer-term
cases have been rising more or less steadily since 1990. The reasons for this are not
altogether clear, but the pattern is very alarming. Graph F shows the distribution of welfare cases by the length of time they were on
welfare as of March 1997. The total cases in the graph cover 95 percent of the estimated


national total of 1,494,800 cases. Fifty-four percent of the cases in the graph had been on
welfare for 25 months or more. Another 14 percent had been on welfare for 13 to 24 months.




Unknown = 3,066 0,2% and 0-3 Months = 177,670 12,5%

   The percentage of short-term cases probably would have been a bit higher if the database
included data from municipal welfare programs in Nova Scotia and Manitoba. Municipal
welfare rolls are made up primarily of able-bodied people who would normally be in the
paid labour force. Their current spells on welfare would normally be relatively short. Quebec is the only province which has published statistics on the total amount of time
people spent on welfare as well as the length of their current spells on welfare. Graph G on the
next page compares the data from March 1997 with the total time spent on welfare over
the period from January 1975 to September 1995.








   The pie in the top half of the graph shows Quebec had a higher than average percentage
of welfare cases where the current spell was 25 months or more. The March 1997 figure for
Quebec was 64 percent, compared to the national average of 54 percent in Graph F. The
percentage of welfare cases where the current spell was no more than six months was 14 percent
in Quebec compared to the national average of 21 percent. The pie in the bottom half of the graph reveals a different pattern when the measure used
is the total time spent on welfare over a period of 20 years. The five white slices of the pie
represent 25 months or more on welfare just as the single white slice in the pie at the top. As
of September 1995, 18 percent of all cases had been on welfare for periods of time adding up
to between two and four years, 13 percent were on welfare for four to six years, nine percent
for six to eight years, seven percent for eight to ten years and 31 percent for ten years or
more. The five white slices add up to 78 percent of the total Quebec caseload. Among cases on welfare for short periods of time only, six percent were on welfare for
a total of under six months sometime during the previous 20 years, compared to 14 percent
with a current spell on welfare of under six months. The differences between the pies are not surprising in light of the cumulative nature of
many of the cases on welfare by reason of disability. People with severe disabilities and no
other means of support aside from welfare would probably be on welfare year after year, not
just for a year or two. The proportion of long-term disability cases would grow year after
year as new people came onto the welfare roles. The statistics on current spells on welfare are almost identical for all four family types,
but there are striking differences when it comes to spells on welfare and reasons for assistan-
ce. People on welfare who are looking for work tend to have shorter rather than longer spells on
welfare. People with disabilities and single parents tend to have longer spells on welfare.
Table 5 on the next page shows the March 1997 data. The total of 1,416,602 represents
95 percent of the estimated national total of 1,494,800. The columns of the table show the major reasons for assistance broken down by the length
of the current spell on welfare. In all cases, the largest single group was on welfare for


25 months or more, but the relative size of this group varied greatly with the reason
for assistance. Forty-four percent of the job-related welfare cases, for example, had current spells on
welfare of 12 months or less. The overwhelming majority of cases related to disability and 58
percent of the cases where single parenthood was given as the reason for assistance had current
spells of 25 months or more.





Single Parent

Other Reasons

All Reasons

0-3 Months 120,343-19% 16,627-4% 20,701-11% 20,000-10% 177,670-13%
4-6 Months 77,626-12% 13,127-3% 13,080-7% 15,960-8% 119,794-8%
7-12 Months 85,47-13% 20,537-5% 18,010-9% 20,143-10% 144,162-10%
13-24 Months 101,607-16% 39,057-10% 28,025-14% 31,699-16% 200,388-14%
25+ Months 251,258-39% 296,903-77% 113,185-58% 110,177-56% 771,522-54%
Unknown 320-0% 1,638-0% 923-0% 185-0% 3,066-0%
Totals 636,626-100% 387,889-100% 193,923-100% 198,164-100% 1,416,602-100%




March 1990

March 1992

March 1994

March 1995

March 1996

March 1997

% Change, 1990-1997

0-3 Months 152,111 24% 238,643 25% 210,024 19% 198,048 18% 156,696 15% 143,287 15% -5.8%
4-6 Months 69,100 11% 131,643 14% 123,987 11% 114,667 11% 98,277 10% 88,024 9% 27.4%
7-12 Months 70,597 11% 136,935 14% 143,098 13% 132,916 12% 120,786 12% 99,617 11% 41.1%
13-24 Months 81,606 13% 142,446 15% 186,337 17% 175,234 16% 159,933 16% 139,477 15% 70.9%
25+ Months 260,809 41% 305,968 32% 430,091 39% 461,336 42% 472,833 46% 472,763 50% 81.3%
Totals In Table 634,581 100% 961,767 100% 1,098,385 100% 1,086,545 100% 1,019,440 100% 946,225 100% 49.1%
Estimated National Totals 1,056,000 1,471,900 1,675,900 1,659,200 1,582,000 1,494,800 41.5%
Sample Size Shown in Table 60% 65% 66% 65% 64% 63%


NOTE: The table does not include New Brunswick or Quebec or municipal welfare cases in Nova Scotia and Manitoba.


   The database also shows a trend to longer spells on welfare in recent years, presumably
because of the difficulties in finding work in the aftermath of the last recession. Table 6 on
the previous page shows current spells on welfare in eight provinces from March 1990 through
March 1997. Quebec was excluded from the graph because data on current spells were not
available for all six years, and New Brunswick did not provide data for any of the six years.
The estimated total caseloads and the sample sizes are shown in the final rows for reference. The number of welfare cases with current spells of 25 months or more rose from 260,809
cases in March 1990 to 472,763 cases in March 1997. That represented an increase of 81.3
percent, much higher than the overall rise in caseloads of 49.1 percent in the eight provinces. The number of cases with spells of 13 through 24 months went up from 81,606 cases in 1990 and
peaked at 186,337 cases in March 1994 before declining to 139,477 in March 1997. The shorter-term spells on welfare peaked in 1992 or 1994 and fell through March 1997.
The number of current spells of three months or less dropped sharply from 238,643 cases in
March 1992 to 143,287 cases in March 1997. The 1997 figure was 5.8 percent lower than
the comparable number of cases at the beginning of the recession in 1990. Finally, there are significant differences in spells on welfare when the statistics are
broken down by province as in Table 7 on the next page. The differences from one province
to the next are starkest in the first and fifth columns, representing the shortest and longest
spells on welfare. The range of cases with current spells on welfare of three months or less went from four
percent of cases in Newfoundland to 28 percent of cases in Alberta. The percentage of welfare
cases with current spells of 25 months or more was highest in Newfoundland at 76 percent
and lowest in Alberta at 25 percent. The figures for Newfoundland and Alberta have changed very little since 1990 and
apparently have little to do with the hard times that followed the last recession or changes
in welfare policy by governments of the two provinces.





0-3 Months

4-6 Months

7-12 Months

13-24 Months

25+ Months


Newfoundland 1,422-4% 1,252-3% 2,081-6% 3,857-11% 27,274-76% 35,886-100%
Prince Edward Island 704-13% 587-10% 574-10% 771-14% 2,978-53% 5,614-100%
Nova Scotia Provincial 3,299-11% 1,691-5% 1,342-4% 4,345-14% 18,405-59% 31,042-100%
New Brunswick Data Not Available
Quebec 34,383-7% 31,770-7% 44,545-9% 60,911-13% 298,759-64% 470,375-100%
Ontario 86,594-15% 48,580-8% 59,562-10% 86,708-15% 295,252-51% 577,795-100%
Manitoba Provincial 1,783-7% 1,836-7% 2,555-10% 3,497-14% 15,760-62% 25,431-100%
Saskatchewan 6,248-16% 3,777-10% 4,626-12% 5,628-14% 18,845-48% 39,124-100%
Alberta 11,351-28% 7,808-19% 5,299-13% 5,640-14% 9,995-25% 40,093-100%
British Columbia 31,886-17% 22,493-12% 23,578-12% 29,031-15% 84,254-44% 191,242-100%
Totals 177,670-13% 119,794-8% 144,162-10% 200,388-14% 771,522-54% 1,416,602-100%


NOTE: The statistics for Nova Scotia and Manitoba do not include municipal welfare cases.



Newfoundland has long had very high rates of unemployment, and that might explain
why its welfare caseload is so heavily laden with long-term welfare cases. Alberta has a
program separate from welfare called Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.
One reason for the small proportion of long-term cases is that many people with severe disabili-
ties who would be on the welfare rolls elsewhere in Canada rely on AISH in Alberta. The AISH
caseload was 20,796 as of March 1997, far more than the number of Albertans with current
spells on welfare of 25 months or more. The percentages of short-term welfare cases would likely be higher in Nova Scotia
and Manitoba if municipal welfare cases were included in the figures.
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