What Does Poverty Look Like In Canada?

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Survey Finds One-In-Four Experience Notable Economic Hardship; And Poverty Is On The Rise

What does it mean to be poor in Canada? Does it mean having to rely on food banks and payday loans to make ends meet? Does it mean struggling to afford warm clothes for the winter? What about having to live far away from work or school?

A new, two-part study from the Angus Reid Institute examines the state of poverty in Canada by looking at lived experiences, rather than income, with some striking results.

This first chapter of the report finds fully one-in-five Canadian adults (21%) say an inability to afford dental care has been a chronic problem for them in their lives. One-in-six are routinely unable to afford new clothes or good-quality groceries, and one-in-seven have struggled with inadequate housing – spaces that are too small or too far from work or school – throughout their lives.

Looking at these experiences in aggregate, ARI researchers are able to sort the Canadian population into four groups: The Struggling (16% of the total population), those On the Edge (11%), those who are Recently Comfortable (36%), and those who are Always Comfortable (37%).

As their names suggest, the Struggling are facing financial challenges that are negatively affecting their quality of life, and those On the Edge are not far from joining them.

Between these two groups, more than one-quarter of the Canadian population (27%) could be described as experiencing notable financial hardship today.

More Key Findings:

• Almost one-in-three Canadians (31%) feel “very stressed about money” on a regular basis – either “often” or “all the time

• More than half of Canadians (52%) believe poverty has been increasing where they live in recent years. Fewer than one-in-ten (9%) say poverty has been on the decline in that time

• Three-in-ten Canadians (30%) are pessimistic about their personal financial situation over the next few years

• More Canadians believe their children’s generation will be worse off (43% do) than themselves than believe they will be better off (32%).

The Canadian government has no official definition of poverty. Instead, it uses a variety of income-based measures to facilitate comparisons between Canada and other countries, and between Canadian cities, regions, and provinces.

This Angus Reid Institute survey sought to quantify economic struggles in a different way, relying on self-reported personal experiences to provide a sense of the relativ ease or difficulty with which Canadians are able to make ends meet.

Because this study was conducted online, those living in extreme poverty – without access to the Internet or a smartphone on which to take the survey – are likely underrepresented in the sample. As such, the findings of this study should be considered low-end estimates of the actual prevalence of the experiences and attitudes in question.

Respondents were asked about a dozen specific money-related scenarios, ranging from having to forgo relative luxuries like movies (44% of Canadians say they have done this) and dinners out on a special occasion (46%), to more serious instances of deprivation like having to use a food bank (16%) or being unable to afford warm winter clothes (17%). In addition to these four items, the following scenarios were canvassed:

Using a “pay day loan” type service that offers access to cash but at higher interest rates (11% of Canadians have done this in their lives)

Being late paying rent or mortgage (18%)

Being unable to pay a utility bill (24%)

Having to borrow money for essentials like groceries or transportation (25%)

Living in a place that is too small or too far away from work or otherwise doesn’t meet one’s needs (27%)

Being unable to buy new clothes when they’re needed (39%)

Being unable to afford dental care (40%)

And, being unable to afford good quality groceries and having to buy what’s cheap instead (43%)

Canadians with children living at home were asked an additional series of questions about their ability to provide for them. Nearly one-in-five (18%) say they can’t always afford to feed their children as nutritiously as they would like, and nearly one-quarter (24%) are unable to buy their children a requested gift for Christmas or a birthday.

For the complete report go to: http://angusreid.org/poverty-in-canada/print