Poverty in the Midst of COVID-19

A report card on child and family poverty in Ontario in 2020
February 14, 2023
2.79 MB31 pages
Click here to read the report online.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of large sections of the Ontario economy. In a few short months, total economic activity in the province fell by 13%. By May, 1.1 million workers were out of a job. The unemployment rate, which had been 5.5% in February 2020, was 13.2% in May.

Despite this economic shock, the rate of child poverty in Ontario decreased in the first year of the pandemic, primarily due to swift government action. In 2020, more than 7.8 million Ontarians, representing 66% of those aged 15 and over, received some form of COVID-related assistance. By the end of the year, support to individuals in Ontario added up to $34.9 billion, 99% of which came from the federal government.

Based on Canada’s official poverty measure, the Market Basket Measure, child poverty in Ontario was cut in half in 2020; the number of children experiencing poverty fell from 314,000 to 153,000. Based on the Low Income Measure, which measures poverty relative to median incomes, the incidence of child poverty dropped by roughly one-quarter of the 2019 total, falling from 498,600 children to 377,040.

For policy-makers, perhaps the most obvious lesson of the pandemic is that poverty, including child poverty, can be reduced much more quickly than Ontario has done in recent years. Timid policies that unfold incrementally over decades are of no use to children who will be grown up before we finally get around to taking action. Canada and Ontario must do more to accelerate the elimination of child poverty, in keeping with the parliament of Canada’s unanimous commitment, in 1989, to do so by the year 2000.