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Social Issues, Poverty

Canadian average, rooming houses, world standards, relief agencies, working poor

While Canada is affluent by world standards, approximately one in seven Canadian families lives below the level of income deemed necessary to provide a decent standard of living. The most commonly cited measure of poverty in Canada is the one used in the annual Statistics Canada survey. Statistics Canada defines low income based on the share of income an average person or family devotes to food, clothing, and shelter needs. Adjustments are made for family size and for rural or urban location. By this standard in 1994, 13.5 percent of families and 40.6 percent of unattached individuals were deemed to have low incomes. Among families, low income was especially prevalent in single-parent households. The families of single mothers were particularly likely to have low incomes, and about 18 percent of Canada’s children were living in families with low incomes. Just under half (48 percent) of poor families relied on welfare for their income, while the remainder were classified as the working poor. Among single people, elderly people, especially elderly women, were likely to have low incomes.

Incomes are also considerably below normal among indigenous peoples in Canada, who earn less than half the Canadian average. While Ottawa has special responsibility for indigenous people, the reserves have some of Canada’s worst social conditions. There, poor housing and chronic unemployment are a way of life for many. Among indigenous peoples, suicide is closely linked to the problems associated with poverty, such as alcohol abuse, family violence, and family disintegration. In some communities where these problems are especially acute, the rate is more than 10 times the national average. Suicide has become the leading cause of death among indigenous teenagers and young adults. Poverty underlies indigenous peoples’ struggles for land and self-government.

Poverty is also prevalent in cities. However, while each Canadian city has its skid row of bars, rooming houses, and relief agencies, there are few large areas of poverty. In fact, many declining neighborhoods have been redeveloped for middle-class residents in recent years. Government-funded housing projects have also been dispersed throughout most of the larger metropolitan areas, rather than concentrated. As a result, poverty rates in many suburbs are no longer appreciably different than in urban core areas.

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