The researcher who pioneered the influential Basic
Needs Poverty Line has found that there has been a striking
change in poverty rates in Canada. Professor Chris Sarlo, who
changed the debate about poverty measurement with his 1992 book
Poverty in Canada
, today released his latest estimates of the poverty line and the
number of Canadians living below it.
The results are a significant reduction in the extent of poverty,
according to an article
Estimating Poverty in Canada: An Update
, published in the July 2005 issue of
, The Fraser Institute's monthly magazine.
Professor Sarlo finds that, after nearly two decades in which
there was no apparent progress in reducing poverty, since 1996
there was a significant decline in the proportion of the
population defined as poor. The poverty rate for individuals is
now in the 5 percent range, after having been in the 8 to 10
percent range from 1977 to 1996.
While poverty researchers have disagreed in the past about the
level of poverty, Professor Sarlo points out in his latest
research brief that the decline in poverty is common to all of
the measures, even the Statistics Canada low income cut-offs long
used by poverty advocates.
He does point out that trying to explain the cause of the decline
is a fairly complicated matter and that the drop is as yet
"Whenever measured poverty declines, the hope is that the poor
have actually moved up to better living standards, either by
acquiring jobs, or by enjoying a change in family status or an
improvement in entitlement benefits," Sarlo noted. "Explanations
for the decline must be left until further evidence is
A decline in poverty could also result from reporting changes or
even demographic changes. Sarlo also explains that those living
in poverty in one year may not be the same individuals living in
poverty in subsequent years. There is substantial evidence that
poverty is dynamic as people move up and down the distribution of
income and that the number of "permanently poor" is much smaller
than any estimate of "point in time" poverty.
If future estimates bear out that Canadian "basic needs" poverty
is now in the 5 percent range Sarlo points out that the danger is
that we become complacent about poverty because it affects only
about 1 in 20 Canadians. In absolute numbers, there are still 1.6
million poor Canadians, according to reported data on incomes.
"The challenge for policy makers will be to explain why we still
have 5 percent of the population living in poverty and what can
be done to reduce or eliminate the problem," he