Uncommon Sense: Charities picking up government slack

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If you were asked whether poverty in Canada was increasing or decreasing, the conventional wisdom might be to answer in the former.

After all, anecdotal evidence would suggest people are farther behind due to the recession. Jobs were lost, savings were spent, credit was piled up, all while the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Right?

That’s how the Leonard Cohen song goes, anyway. But in truth, we’re not so bad off as we may think.

According to a report on the 2011 income of Canadians by Statistics Canada released on June 27, while median after-tax income for families of two or more people was virtually unchanged for the fourth consecutive year, the percentage of low income Canadians is at its lowest level in 10 years.

The percentage of persons in low income households represents three million Canadians, or 8.8 per cent of the population. The figures are calculated by determining the after-tax low income cut-off (LICO) of a family of four living in an urban community with a population between 30,000 and 99,999 as expressed in current dollars, adjusted for inflation from a base index established in 1992.

Statistics Canada used the Consumer Price Index to revise the cost of living and cross-references this with after-tax income. In 2010, this LICO number was $29,623.

At 8.8 per cent of the population living at or below LICO, it represents a 2.8 per cent drop from 2003. More interesting still is the demographic breakdowns. Twenty three per cent of single mothers are living in poverty, down from 43 per cent in 2002. As well, 8.5 per cent of children live in poverty, down from 13 per cent in 2004.

So what does all of this mean? It’s difficult to say. Poverty groups are painting a different picture than the one indicated by Statistics Canada.

According to the 2012 “Hungercount” report by Food Banks Canada, 31 per cent more Canadians are using food banks than they did in 2008, before the recession began. In B.C. that represents a 6.6 per cent increase from 2011 to 2012.

As well, a recent Child and Family Poverty report released to council by the Canadian Federation of University Women South Delta found “significant hidden family poverty” in Ladner and Tsawwassen. These families are relying on organizations like Deltassist in greater numbers than ever before, with the organization’s Christmas Hamper program helping 50 per cent more people in 2012 than in 2007.

It may be that although poverty is declining by the measurement of income and price inflation, charitable organizations are providing a social safety net that are skewing those numbers.

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