The latest release from Statistics Canada on personal and family incomes shows the promise of Canada has been fulfilled in going a long way towards reversing poverty levels. Taking the long view, one is cheerily reassured that the disappointing poverty incidence of 1998 – when one in seven Canadians (14%) were in the lowest income class, a far cry from one in nine (11%) citizens ten years previously – has not only been arrested but reduced to the lowest level in recent times. As of 2007, the report goes, the proportion of the Canadian population earning at the lowest income levels had fallen to just 9%.
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To the thoughtful reader, such news with respect to long-term gains in popular wellbeing serves as a refreshing contrast to today’s frequently-hysterical headlines about the continuing rise in layoff’s and the consequent swelling of welfare rolls because of a recession that originated in the United States.
In fact, one benefit of looking at the report that spans two decades, from 1988 to 2007, is being convinced that social welfare improves in the long run, if only because personal pluck, economic development, income support policies, women’s liberation, and the torrent of well-paying careers unleashed by the Information Age all combine to improve quality of life.
For Canadians generally, at the risk of being repetitious, the proportion falling in the low-income brackets worsened between 1988 and 1998 (from 11% to 14%) but retreated at a 15% pace to “just” 9% by 2007. On the face of it, the nation had one percentage fewer “poor” people than during the baseline period and this looks like a gain. However, a closer look will likely reveal that the ending figure in 2007 represented a larger headcount since the Canadian population grew from around 28 million in the 1986 census year to 31 million as of 2001.
During the period under review, women achieved rough parity with men, if the prevalence of low incomes is anything to go by. The trend for men was roughly similar to the population as a whole: “poverty incidence” being just a shade under the population average in 1988, deteriorating to 13% in 1998 and falling back to 9% by 2007. Women were worse off at the start. Their low-income prevalence was significantly greater than for men (12% versus 9% or nearly one-third higher) in 1988. Ten years later, “poverty rate” among women languished worse than among men (14.5% versus 12.9%, respectively). By 2007, however, low-income proportions had improved to about the same as men. Surely such parity across genders tells much about the combined impact of anti-discrimination sentiment and regulations, as well as the more abundant numbers of women going to college and getting more diverse career options as a result.
On the other hand, the unfortunate case of single mothers underlines how women’s insistence on “choice”, the less sturdy upbringing some have been subject to, the permissiveness of some subcultures, the spread of divorce, and the sheer struggle to balance work and family when there is no spouse to help all harm economic opportunity. In both 1988 and 1998, nearly half (46% to 49%) of single-mother families were classed as low-income. That more favorable circumstances helped reduce this proportion to just 27% by 2007 does not detract from the fact that “poverty incidence” for single mothers remained about four times greater than for regular two-parent families (6.5%). Sociologists have doubtless addressed the question of whether single-parent status harms economic opportunity or poverty is itself an antecedent of falling into the trap of unmarried motherhood.