National Household Survey Reveals Greater Poverty

“The focus has shifted to the measure rather than the lives of poor people and what’s happening to them. It’s frustrating.” Leilani Farha
09-12-13

Stark statistics on income were released yesterday as part of the newly established National Household Survey.  Replacing the Census (with much protest), the NHS digested income and shelter metrics from 2011 and was meant to highlight how the country has fared since the 2008 recession.  While many criticize the methodology, the fact remains that poverty is an issue that deserves immediate attention.

According to the NHS, in 2011 4.8 million people were living with low-income, with the majority of these individuals concentrated in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.  This stat was derived from the Low Income Measure – a pseudo poverty line that sets the bar at half the median income.  The median income in 2011, as stated by the NHS, was $27,800.  This would put the poverty line at approximately $14,000.

Let’s put it another way. Almost 5 million people earned $14k or less in 2011.  Also consider that 13% of the low-income population get their income solely from government transfers.  This is shocking.

The survey also pointed out the giant inequality gap.  While the median income was almost $28k, the top 10% raked in over $80,000 per year, the top 5% over $100,000, and the top 1% over $191,000.  Inequalities also exist between men and women with men earning $46,471 versus $31,204.  Yes, women are still fighting for equality.

Leilani Farha, CWP’s Executive Director, weighed in on these numbers on CTV national news and in Post Media newspapers after the report release yesterday.  She brought the focus back into the need for a national poverty plan and federal leadership on poverty (no, a jobs plan is not a poverty plan).

But the survey is not without criticism.  The NHS noted in it’s report that the low income numbers cannot be compared with previous census numbers as the methodology is different.  Previously the census used the Low Income Cut-Off to measure poverty (based on families spending 60% or more on basic needs, and dependent on family size and location).  This warning is clearly written in the report in a nice blue box.

The issue, as pointed out in this article today by a leading economist, is that the Canadian public is left without concretely knowing how people in Canada did between the years of 2006 – 2010.  This is due to the change in methodology and also for the fact that about 26% of people did not fill out the survey.  Remember, this was voluntary.

Let’s move beyond numbers for a second, because it is obvious that a poverty problem still exists and people with low-income are waiting for change.  But whether the number is 12% or 14%, poverty is a huge drain on the economy, the health care system, government revenues, and lest we forgot, individuals.  This survey does reinforce the need for action – numbers this bad should lead to action shouldn’t they?

Only time will tell.