National Household Survey 2011: Ontario making progress fighting poverty
Ontario rates of low-income suggest provincial efforts to reduce poverty are paying off.
Sep 11 2013
Dawnmarie Harriott was on welfare and living in a downtown Toronto rooming house during Statistics Canada’s 2006 Census.
Today, the 42-year-year single mother of two is earning $45,000 a year and living in a spacious apartment on the lower level of a house in Richmond Hill.
Stories like Harriott’s may be one reason Ontario’s 13.9 per cent low-income rate was the second lowest in the country in 2010, as reported in Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey, released Wednesday.
“I’m the poster child for Ontario’s efforts to reduce poverty,” said Harriott, who lost everything when she fled an abusive spouse in 2005.
About 4.8 million Canadians, or almost 15 per cent, were living in low-income households in 2010, according to the survey, which replaced the long-form census.
Oil-rich Alberta had the lowest rate at 10.7 per cent, said the survey.
Statistics Canada considerers individuals to be living in low income when their income falls below 50 per cent of the median household income, after taxes. The so-called Low Income Measure (LIM) in 2010 for a single person was $19,460, after taxes. For a couple with two children, it was $38,920.
Due to the voluntary nature of the survey, Statistics Canada says the survey findings cannot be compared to low-income data from other years.
However, this “snapshot in time” suggests Ontario weathered the 2008 recession better than most provinces, said economist Armine Yalnizyan.
When the global economic crisis hit, Ontario was in the process of raising its hourly minimum wage to $10.25, noted Yalnyzian, who works for the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The province also introduced a child benefit of up to $1,100 a year per child.
New federal initiatives introduced since 2006, such as the $100 monthly child-care benefit and the Working Income Tax Benefit, worth up to $925 a year for low-income workers, also seem to have kept many Ontario households afloat, she said.
“The story is public policy has made the difference,” she said. “However, public policy can only do so much if the labour market isn’t creating good jobs with decent incomes.”
The nature of Ontario’s job losses was also a factor. Even though Ottawa gutted Employment Insurance, most Ontario workers whose jobs evaporated were long-term employees in the manufacturing sector who still qualified for EI, Yalnizyan said.
“The provinces are doing most of the heavy lifting in the fight against poverty,” she said. “The feds are conspicuously absent.”
Ontario, which is drafting its second five-year poverty reduction strategy this fall, can’t afford to rest on its laurels, said social policy expert John Stapleton.
The province’s minimum wage has been frozen for three years, increases to the child benefit have been delayed and research shows precarious, low-wage work is on the rise, he said.
Harriott hopes Ontario continues to make fighting poverty a priority.
“Anybody can fall into poverty at any time,” she said. “But with social support to navigate the many barriers people face, I’m proof it is possible to escape.”
Harriott credits Working for Change, a small Parkdale non-profit agency that helps people with histories of homelessness and mental illness advocate for themselves. Harriott is now the program co-ordinator.
Credit: Toronto Star