Poverty - Where do we draw the line?

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This paper is the latest in a series of studies on the measurement of poverty in Canada. It provides new estimates of poverty in Canada using the Basic Needs Line. It determines the trend in poverty over the past 40 years, and provides a fairly detailed profile of the poor. In 1969, Canada?s overall income poverty rate was about 16 percent. By 2009, the latest year for which detailed income and consumption data are available, the rate was below 5 percent. The trend for child poverty is about the same, with child poverty at about 5.5 percent in 2009?down from about 17 percent in 1969. The corresponding rates for consumption poverty are even lower.

The risk of poverty is greater among the young, single persons, and single parents, and among persons with disabilities. Perhaps most strikingly, while only 29 percent of all Canadians are renters, fully 83 percent of poor Canadians live in rented accommodation.

The paper is much more than an update of the estimates of basic needs poverty. It looks more carefully at the debate about absolute and relative measures. It examines more critically, and in far more depth, the media treatment of the poverty issue. The paper highlights a number of concerns about the media coverage of poverty. Among them are the tendency to ?switch? definitions (to use relative definitions to measure poverty, and then to use absolute definitions to describe those so measured), the tendency to ignore some clearly important government commitments (like the declaration at Copenhagen in 1995 that Canada signed onto, which mandated that all nations both measure and end absolute poverty), the tendency to promote other stories criticizing the government for failing to end relative poverty, and the virtual absence of any investigative reporting on this topic.

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