A Report Card on Women and Poverty

April 5, 2000

Ottawa--Poverty is still a women's issue - even though people no longer seem to be talking about it. Almost 19% of adult women in Canada are poor. That's the highest rate of women's poverty in two decades.

In A Report Card on Women and Poverty, prepared for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, economist Monica Townson found that, since 1980, the percentage of women living in poverty has been climbing steadily. Women remain among the poorest of the poor, says Townson. And recent government policies have contributed to the growing poverty of women, she notes.

Among the findings of the study:

  • There has been virtually no improvement in poverty rates of women since the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada issued its report some 30 years ago.
  • Fifty-six per cent of women heading single parent families have incomes below the poverty line.
  • Almost half of all women aged 65 or older have low incomes - exactly the same poverty rate as that reported by the Royal Commission for this group in 1967.
  • Most poor people live thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Sole-support mothers average $9,000 below the low-income cut-off, while older women on their own are about $3,000 below, on average.
  • Earnings of married women have done much to keep family poverty rates down. But while the wage gap between women and men who work full-time for a full year has been narrowing, about 40% of employed women are now working in non-standard jobs such as part-time, temporary or contract work, as well as self-employment. "Many of these jobs do not provide women with the kind of financial security they need to support their families and provide for their future," says Townson.

Townson calls for the adoption of a more comprehensive approach to dealing with poverty - such as that envisaged by the UN Poverty Report - which would take gender differences into account. She says it would look at how women's financial security may be undermined because they must combine paid work with unpaid family responsibilities; how lack of quality affordable child care limits the ability of women to earn wages and support their families; and how government policies - such as the Ontario government's decision to slash social assistance rates, or the federal government's recent changes in the unemployment insurance program - have a disproportionately adverse impact on women, denying them income support when they are most in need.

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