Poverty is an issue that affects millions of people worldwide. While it would be easy to think that it only affects people in poorer countries, the truth is that people are living below the poverty line in all countries, including Canada.
This article will give you an overview of poverty in Canada by exploring the key statistics around the issue. You will find information on how poverty in Canada has changed in recent years together with how factors such as age, gender, disability, and ethnicity affect the risk of experiencing poverty in Canada.
Poverty Statistics for Canadians
- The overall poverty rate in Canada was 8.1% in 2020.
- Canadian seniors have the lowest poverty rate (4.7%) while young adults have the highest (14%) among all the age groups.
- At 11.2% Vancouver had the highest poverty rate among urban centres in 2020.
- 1% of single-parent, woman-led families with a child under five years old lived in poverty in 2020.
- Over 10% of all Canadians live on low incomes.
- The poverty rates are over four points higher among transgender men and women compared to cisgender men and women.
- Almost 30% of Canadians with a disability live in poverty.
- Poverty rates among the Indigenous people have fallen but are still above average.
- 3% of Chinese people lived in poverty in 2020 compared to 12.4% of Black Canadians and 10.8% of South Asians.
- The poverty rate among immigrants fell to 9.1% in 2020.
Poverty in Canada
Based on the findings of the 2021 Census, the poverty rate fell in Canada from 14.5% in 2015 to 8.1% in 2020. While that shows a positive change in Canada, according to the OECD, in 2018 33% of Canadians were at risk of falling below the poverty line if they missed just three months of income. This means that while the portion of people living in poverty has decreased, there are still many Canadians who are living uncomfortably close to the poverty line.
While poverty declined among all age groups between the last two census dates, the poverty levels improved most significantly among children. In 2020, 9.1% of Canadian children aged 0 to 5 years old were living in poverty, while the rates were 8.5% and 7.9% for children aged 6-10 and 11-17, respectively. These portions are less than half of what they were in 2015. The drivers behind the declining poverty rates included temporary pandemic relief arrangements as well as the enhanced Canada Child Benefit (CCB).
Young Canadians aged between 18 and 24 have a higher poverty rate than any other age group at 14%. However, this is lower than the 20.9% from 2015. Young adult Canadians living alone are the most likely to live in poverty at 53.3%. In contrast, only 5.6% of young adults living with family members lived in poverty.
People approaching retirement were more likely to live in poverty compared to those of core-working age at 9% compared to 7.9%, with core-working age including adults aged 25 to 54. Canadian seniors, aged 65 and up, were least likely to live in poverty at 4.7% thanks to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which helps seniors with lower incomes to maintain at least a basic standard of living.
Urban Centres Have Higher Poverty Rates
Poverty was more prevalent in Canada in large urban areas, despite higher levels of income because of the higher cost of living. Vancouver had the highest poverty rate at 11.2%. It was followed by Halifax and Toronto with 10.5% and 10%, respectively. The lowest poverty rates among urban areas were in Quebec at 4.8%, Saguenay at 5.3%, and Oshawa also at 5.3%.
Across the provinces, Quebec had the lowest poverty rate, at 6.4% in 2020. It was the only province where the poverty rate was below the national average. Quebec has been able to maintain lower poverty rates because of lower living costs. It also has the best-subsidised childcare, which can be a major financial burden in many other provinces.
While most provinces had poverty rates close to the national average, Nova Scotia and British Columbia had the highest rates at 9.8% in each province. Ontario saw a significant fall in poverty, with the rate down to 8.3% from 15.5% in 2015.
Single Parent Families Headed by Women Have High Poverty Rates
The highest poverty rates among all family types were in one-parent families with a child aged up to five years old and headed by a woman. The poverty rate for these families was 31.3% compared to 6% for families with two parents and a child of the same age. However, this rate was halved from 2015 when it was 62.7%.
Women Are More Likely Than Men to Live on Low Incomes in Canada
Women in Canada are more likely than men to live in poverty or on low incomes. According to Statistics Canada, 10.6% of Canadians lived on low incomes in 2021. The portion of men living on low incomes was 9.7% compared to 11.4% of women. Women with disabilities are more likely to live on low incomes at 23% and 28% of women-led households are in core housing need in Canada.
Across Canada, there are differences between the portions of men and women living on low incomes. Alberta and Saskatchewan have the smallest differences. In Alberta, the difference is just 0.4% with 8.7% of men and 9.1% of women living on low incomes. In Saskatchewan, the portions are 12% for men and 12.5% for women living on low incomes.
The biggest differences between men and women on low incomes are in Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the difference is 5.1% with 11.7% of men and 16.8% of women living on low incomes. Prince Edward Island has 10.2% of men and 14.2% of women living on low incomes.
Poverty Rates Are Higher Among Transgender Men and Women
Compared to cisgender men and women, the poverty rates among transgender men and women are higher. For cisgender men, the poverty rate was 8.2% in 2020 compared to 12.9% for transgender men. While 7.9% of cisgender women lived in poverty in 2020, the proportion of transgender women living in poverty was 12%. Out of non-binary people, 20.6% lived in poverty.
Based on the findings of the 2021 Census, there were almost 60,000 transgender people and over 40,000 non-binary people in Canada. Taking into consideration the fact that people who were transgender or non-binary were generally younger than the cisgender population and that young Canadians had the highest poverty rates, could go some way to explain the differences in poverty rates between cisgender, transgender, and non-binary Canadians.
People With Disabilities Are at High Risk of Living in Poverty
According to Statistics Canada income survey, around 8.9 million Canadians aged sixteen and over are living with disability. This represents about 28% of the population and as the population ages, this portion will grow further. The percentage includes people living with pain, having flexibility or mobility issues, or having mental-cognitive disabilities.
There are serious barriers to participation in the labour force for Canadians with disabilities and less than 60% of working age Canadians with disabilities are employed. However, 45% of Canadians with disabilities could work in an inclusive labour force.
People with disabilities are at a far greater risk of living in poverty than people without disabilities. Nearly 30% of those with more severe disabilities lived in poverty in 2017. Those who had severe disabilities and lived alone were the most likely to live in poverty at over 60%. Before the pandemic, over one million Canadians with a disability lived in poverty.
Poverty Among The Indigenous Population in Canada
The poverty rate for Indigenous people, other than First Nations people who were living on reserve, in the provinces fell to 11.8% in 2020 from 23.8% in 2015. In 2020, the poverty rate was 14.1% for First Nations people who lived off reserve, 10.2% for Inuits, and 9.2% for Metis.
Poverty among Indigenous people living in urban areas has declined since the 2015 Census. For example, in Winnipeg which has the largest urban Indigenous population the rates were 44% for First Nations people, 19.7% for Metis, and 27.3% for Inuits in 2015. In 2020, the rates were 23.2%, 10.5%, and 14.4%, respectively. While these figures show that improvements have been made, the rates are still above the average, especially for First Nations people and Inuits.
Poverty Among Racial Minority Groups in Canada
One in four people belonged to a racial minority group in Canada in 2021. The largest groups were South Asians, with 2.6 million people, Chinese with 1.7 million, and Black Canadians with 1.5 million. These three groups made up 16.1% of the country’s population.
Overall, 10.8% of South Asians, 12.4% of Black Canadians, and 15.3% of Chinese people living in Canada lived in poverty in 2020. However, there are significant differences between regions. For example, 9.7% of Black Canadians living in Montreal lived below the poverty line compared to 15.8% in Winnipeg.
There were declining rates of poverty among most racial minority groups from 2015 to 2020. One of the most notable declines was among Arab Canadians living in Regina where the rate fell from 57.1% in 2015 to 16.3% in 2020.
Poverty Among Immigrants in Canada
23% of Canada’s population was born outside Canada and arrived in the country later in life. Some of these 8.3 million people were immigrants and others were refugees. The rate of immigrants living in poverty was more than halved between 2015 and 2020. In 2015, it was 18.8% and had fallen to 9.1% in 2020.
However, there were still more immigrants living below the poverty line compared to people born in Canada. Recent immigrants and refugees were the most likely groups to live in poverty. The rate was 13.8% among refugees and 16.1% among immigrants who had arrived in the last five years leading up to the census. The poverty rate for immigrants who had lived in Canada for at least ten years was 7.5% in 2020.
Data from the last two censuses and other surveys on poverty in Canada show that the country’s poverty rate has decreased. The overall poverty rate has fallen from 14.5% in 2015 to 8.1% in 2020. However, there are still groups of people who are far more likely to live in poverty or low income so there is more work to be done to address poverty across all groups in Canada.
Frequently Asked Questions
The rate of people living in poverty in Canada is 8.1% of the population. In addition, 10.6% live on low incomes, and a third of Canadians are at risk of falling into poverty if they missed three months’ income.
Canada now has fewer people living in poverty than in 2015. According to the census from 2015, 14.5% of Canadians were living in poverty at the time compared to 8.1% five years later.
Women, especially single mothers, transgender men and women, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and people from racial minorities are more likely to live in poverty or on low incomes. However, statistics show that poverty rates have decreased in the last five years.