Fewer people in poverty?

Andrew Coyne in the National Posts reviews poverty measurement and trends over time in the article Fewer people sit below the poverty line now than ever before. Why are we not talking about it?His overall point is that poverty has gone down in Canada.

But still: a much smaller proportion of the population now lives on low income, using a benchmark that was considered the acme of progressivism just a few years ago. The numbers that would be considered poor by the standards of 1965 must be a fraction of that.

The article focuses on the distinction between relative and absolute measures and defines the LICO measurement for the lay audience. Further, the story gets to the heart of the debate between income and consumption and what it means to be poor in a rich society.

4 responses to “Fewer people in poverty?”

  1. Katrina Heyde says:

    I was pleasantly surprised by this article- I assumed an immediate bias, given that it was published in the National Post-shows me I suppose.
    For the most part, I enjoyed his writing and his points, although there were bits, as such: “Why 20 percent? Because” that I didn’t enjoy. It’s not that complicated, especially given the stats he throws out in the next sentence. Don’t condescend to your audience.
    Is is ‘factually’ true that Canadians spend less of their income on necessities? This is extremely surprising to me. I wonder if he’s lived in Vancouver?
    The shifting yardstick that he disparages is essential if we’re going to take the Lico seriously. If we don’t take into account changing wages/living standards etc then the thing is totally useless. For whom is it important to be excited about ‘improvement about actual living standards at the bottom’?
    Given my (admittedly limited) understanding of the Lico, I can’t be certain of whether or not I agree that poverty is down. If indeed the numbers haven’t been adjusted since early 90’s, I can’t quite buy it. Again, I struggle to believe that Canadians are spending less of their incomes on necessities, and wonder how that changes regionally.

    I agree that these are conversations we need to have. I agree that stats that are used by the gov should be made accessible to the people…

    However, since I don’t work with mental health associations, street work, sex work or shelters, I do not see the poorest of the poor. I work with the working poor. Very different. Mind you, for a long time I would have argued that any poverty means we have to fight harder. Not that I don’t believe this, but I am starting to look at things at a more macro (shudder, conservative?) perspective. What do these numbers mean for overall policy?
    If we focus on a larger picture can we change more lives?

  2. Katrina Cherney says:

    What is the most accurate way to measure poverty? What do poverty statistics really tell us about the lived reality of people in Canada? Coyne’s article leaves me wondering about the highly political nature of poverty measurement.

    Coyne asks why people aren’t talking about diminishing poverty rates. As Dazinger explains in a recent article, this may have something to do with the resistance of critics of expensive anti-poverty programs to acknowledging their success. I think that this lack of acknowledgment is also related to the alarmist nature of our news media – we are more engrossed by failure and negativity than by hopeful stories of positive change. Furthermore, a decline in poverty may seem counterintuitive to many people. As we become more aware of the massive rise of inequality in the last few decades, it is harder to accept that the livelihoods of those at the bottom of the income distribution in Canada have actually improved.

  3. Leigha Cann says:

    On the surface this appears like an excellent thing – why aren’t we celebrating this major achievement? Is the social service sector sitting on this because they are afraid it will mean more budget cuts? Or perhaps, in this headline driven era, the public is more attracted to doomsday news than to good news.

    However, I think this “reduction” in poverty is, at least in part, due to overlooking key elements. Does this report account for asset poverty or the amount of debt people are accumulating? If poverty is decreasing, how come services are over burdened? Perhaps this relates to McKnight’s suggestion that we are creating a problem in order to provide services, or perhaps it suggests instead that we have inaccurate measures for poverty. I would also be very interested to know what impact the removal of the long-form census has on the data we collect relating to income and poverty.

    In my experience as a social worker, our social welfare system is designed to maintain poverty, not to reduce it. The financial and social aid that we provide is limited and constructed in such a way that perpetuates the continuation of poverty, without ever equipping individuals with the ability to rise out of poverty. My experiences working within the system are incongruent with any report stating such a dramatic reduction in poverty.

  4. David Rothwell says:

    From Alison Gault:
    So 8.8% of Canada’s population is living below the LICO line! Excellent, the lowest of the low!! No-one’s talking about it? I’m not surprised, it’s not a very sexy headline.

    LICO conservatives say that it’s not a good measure because it understates “actual improvements in living standards at the bottom”. Would it equally understate the decline in living standards?

    The problem with the LICO measure and most measures is they use data collected by Statistics Canada. Those most at risk are usually omitted or under-represented in household surveys ( i.e. institutionalized, hospitalized, in prison, asylum seekers, homeless people and minority ethnic groups) (Levitas et al. 2007). The most vulnerable or at risk of poverty are not even measured.

    The LICO used to be recalculated every 10 years, but why are we still using the 1992 base? If we are going to use the LICO wouldn’t it be a good time to recalculate the base instead of just adjusting the base for inflation? I’m sure there have been changes in spending patterns, but the survey of household spending was discontinued in 1997, maybe that’s a better year?

    I think it’s time for a new measure. But it’s all relative isn’t it?

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