Fraser Forum

Who is at higher risk of persistent poverty in Canada?

Printer-friendly version

When discussing poverty in Canada, it is important to draw a distinction between people who experience short versus long term spells in low income. After all, the policies that will help Canadians may differ based on whether their exposure to poverty is temporary or persistent.

Thankfully, less than two per cent of the Canadian population experiences low income persistently year after year—and this percentage has fallen over time. But this percentage, while small, still translates into a significant number of Canadians so reducing it further is a worthwhile policy objective. In order to present workable policy solutions, it is important to identify who is at higher risk of being in persistent poverty.

Statistics Canada research has identified five characteristics that are associated with being at risk of falling into persistent low-income status. These include:

• having a physical or mental disability,
• being part of a lone-parent family,
• having less than a high school education,
• being single and not living with family, and
• being a visible minority born outside of Canada.

(This research does not cover people living on First Nations reserves or those who are suffering from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol so it does not identify all at-risk characteristics.)

Importantly, the characteristics of these at-risk groups are not mutually exclusive; someone could have more than one characteristic that puts them at a higher risk for persistent low income. For instance, a person could be a single parent without a high school diploma or single suffering from a disability. People with multiple at-risk characteristics are likely to be at even greater risk of persistent low income than someone with just one at-risk characteristic.

In addition, there can be important differences within these at-risk groups. For example, for those with disabilities, research suggests that those living with permanent conditions have higher risk of living with a persistently low income. Also, someone with a more severe disability is less likely to be employed and thus will find it more difficult to escape low income. The employment rate for Canadians (aged 25 to 64) in 2011 with “mild” disability was 68 per cent compared to 26 per cent for those with a “very severe” disability.

There is also an important distinction between visible minorities who are immigrants and those who were born in Canada. Researchers have found that immigrant visible minorities are at a statistically significant higher risk of experiencing low income but this is not the case for Canadian-born visible minorities.   

The characteristics of people at a higher risk for persistent low income provides useful information not just for gaining insights into poverty in Canada, but potentially for developing strategies for helping those who find it more difficult to escape poverty. Still, at-risk characteristics alone do not necessarily explain why some people find themselves stuck while others (often with the same characteristics) do not. This is why it is important to gain a more complete understanding of the various root causes of poverty.

For more on this issue, check out this earlier blog post.


Blog Category: 

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.