The Real Poor In CanadaAnd Why We Don’t Know Who They Are

WALTER STEWART January 1 1971

The Real Poor In CanadaAnd Why We Don’t Know Who They Are

WALTER STEWART January 1 1971

The Real Poor In CanadaAnd Why We Don’t Know Who They Are


CANADIANS DON’T THINK of themselves as poor — the federal government does. Canadians don’t measure themselves in dollars — the Economic Council of Canada does. The result is that we’re creating a climate of psychological poverty in this country that has little to do with what is really going on; we’re dismissing whole regions as poverty-bound and trying to convince the people of those regions that they are a collective failure, when they don’t see themselves that way at all.

Those are the main conclu-

sions drawn by sociologist Martin Goldfarb from the fifth Maclean’s - Goldfarb Report, a

study based on a statistically reliable sample of Canadians from all across the land. This report, which in many ways reinforces an earlier survey of Canadian attitudes on success (Maclean’s, December 1970), suggests it is time we took an entirely new look at poverty, stopped measuring it in terms of arbitrary standards laid down by Ottawa bureaucrats and started viewing it in terms of the plight of real people.

Official Ottawa accepts an

arbitrary definition of poverty, one laid down by the Economic Council of Canada in 1968. In its annual report for that year, the council suggested that the poverty line should be drawn for a single person at $1,500 annual income, for a couple at $2,500, and for families of three, four and five or more at $3,000, $3,500 and $4,000. Applying that standard, the council discovered that 4.7 million Canadians live on the wrong side of the poverty line. Its roll call of poverty includes 29% of the nation, more than half of all farm families, 45% of all families in the Atlantic region.

The figures are startling — the ECC called them “a disgrace” — and they have been quoted in almost every brief, article, brochure and book on poverty since they were issued; they are embedded in our thinking, enshrined in the federal government’s regional approach to poverty problems.

But are they a fair measure of Canada?

Goldfarb says they are not, that they measure only a part — an important part, but only a part — of what it means to be poor. He does not minimize the human tragedy that pover-, ty is — he calls for a more sophisticated understanding of how it marks the lives of its victims. “Poverty,” he says, “is more than a physical thing, it’s more than being deprived of dollars; it’s an attitude, a sense of defeat, a loss of dignity. But when you probe Canadian attitudes, you don’t find that defeat. You find a great many Canadians the ECC says are poor who don’t accept that definition of themselves, who say, ‘Dammit, I’m not poor.’ You find such anomalies as the fact that more people in the $8,000-to-$10,000-a-year bracket consider themselves to be in poverty than in the $6,000-to$8,000 income group.”

In an earlier study on attitudes of Canadians to the United Appeal, Martin Goldfarb Consultants found that people on welfare would rather get food and help from the Salvation Army than from a community agency, because “Once you start on welfare, then you’re poor . . . The Salvation Army has no questions to ask, no demands to make.

You’re not beholden . . . You may be down on your luck, but nobody has to classify you as poor to help you.”

That’s an important distinction, and one that most Canadians make, even if their governments do not. A Prince Edward Island lobster fisherman who supports a family on less than $3,000 a year often cannot buy the things he wants; but he lives by the sea in a surrounding he loves, he is his own boss, he has enough to eat, and a sense of pride in his own worth. An unemployed laborer in Toronto or Montreal may have roughly the same income, but may live in a slum, spin out his days waiting for a job, and find himself sinking in defeat and despair. There is no way to equate the two brands of poverty — yet the statistical approach does just that. The ECC’s contention that nearly half of the families in the Atlantic area are below the poverty line reinforces the government’s tendency to deal with poverty on a regional basis. This is underlined by the fact that we have a federal Department of Regional and Economic Expansion and in the way that department spends its money. Of 22 “special

areas” that will receive $200million in extra aid this year, 13 are in the Atlantic region, and one in Ontario. Yet, even by the ECC measure, there are more poor in Ontario than in the Atlantic area (254,000 families against 158,000).

“The implication,” says Goldfarb, “is that areas such as Toronto should be penalized, and that is folly.”

He does not suggest switching the aid from Halifax to Hamilton; he does suggest that some standard other than the dollar measure should be used to guide our choice of where and how to spend funds. Only by ascertaining people’s attitudes toward poverty can we find out who are the truly deprived, he argues, and only when we do that will we end the myth that a man can be made poor by the stroke of a pen.

As the table below indicates, only 10% of Canadians consider themselves to be in poverty, compared to the officially estimated 29%, only 11% of Maritimers regard themselves as poor, compared to 45%, and the rejection of poverty as a self-description is high among Canadians of every region and income group.


WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF TO BE IN POVERTY? PERCENTAGE OF RESPONDENTS YES NO Total respondents 10 89 PROVINCE BC 13 87 Prairies 12 87 Ontario 92 Quebec—English 11 89 French 13 87 Maritimes 11 89 AGE Under 25 _94 25 - 34 _93 35 - 44 10 87 45-54 13 86 55 and over 15 85 EDUCATION High school or less 16 _84 Completed high school 91 Completed university or better 94 LANGUAGE English _90 French 14 86 INCOME Less than $6,000 25 75 $6,000 - $8,000 _93 $8,000 - $10,000 _91 $10,000$12,000 _96 Over $12,000 95

When does poverty start to hurt?

When Goldfarb respondents were asked to draw a poverty line, the bulk of them — 53% — set it between $5,000 and $6,000 annual income — higher than the Economic Council standards. But 12% of Canadians feel it is possible to get along on $4,000 or less, and another 5% put the figure at $3,000. The average of all the respondents’ replies was $5,920. Apparently Canadians set a higher objective standard than the one they apply to themselves, because only 25% of those in the under-$6,000 annual-income bracket consider themselves to be in poverty. A further breakdown of this study reveals interesting variations: 27% of those who live on the prairies believe the cutoff point comes at $4,000, while only 14% of Maritimers accept that income level as sufficient. The standards vary with age, too: 26% of Canadians in the 25-44 age group draw the poverty line at $8,000 or higher, compared to 8% of those under 25.


% RESPONDENTS $3,000_5 $4,000_12^ $5,000_31^ $6,000_22^ $7,000_10 $8,000_8 over $8,000 12 Average: $5,920

Who are the poor? Not whom you think

The fuzziness of our current approach to poverty appears very quickly when Canadians are asked to identify the underprivileged in society. There is an overwhelming tendency to pick out fishermen and farmers, lazy people, hippies, addicts, alcoholics and Maritimers. The Economic Council of Canada, in its statistical approach to poverty, acknowledged that more than 83% of Canada’s low-income non-farm families live outside the Atlan-

tic area, and more than half of low-income families live in metropolitan zones, but the council’s dollar yardstick argued that nearly one in every two Maritime families is poor, riveting attention to a single geographic area. The incidence of poverty is higher in eastern Canada, but in actual numbers there are more poor in Ontario, many more in Quebec, than along the Atlantic coast. Yet the image we have of a typical poor person is that of a fisherman, a logger or a farmer. That’s wrong. Typically, Canada’s low-income family lives in a city, and the head of the family has a job. Senator David Croll, Chairman of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty, has estimated that 68% of our poor are employed.

Because we have accepted a stereotyped out-of-work fisherman as our typical poverty case, Goldfarb argues, we have turned the Maritimer into a second-class citizen. “We have created a prejudice against these people, many of whom, while they don’t have much money, are among the most independent, self-reliant, dignified people in the entire nation.”


% Farmers 17 Fishermen 63 Steel workers 1 Auto workers 1 Civil servants 3 Truck drivers 5 Lumber workers 9 Lazy people 44 Sick people 6 Old people 11 Invalids 5 Mental retards 6 Unwed mothers 2 Hippies/addicts/alcoholics 25 English 5 French Canadians 19 Italian immigrants 9 Jews 3 German immigrants 2 Maritimers 59

You’re poor when you lose your pride

Almost as many Canadians consider poverty to be a way of thinking as a set of physical circumstances, and more people believe it is self-imposed than a product of outside circumstances. To researcher Goldfarb, this does not suggest that Canadians accept poverty, or think nothing should be done about it, but rather that “people don’t measure their achievements by how many dollars they have to spend; what they’re saying is that if you let yourself lose your pride, you’re in a state of poverty.”

IS POVERTY . . ■_ A natural, physical thing 52 A way of thinking_43 Did not state_6 IS POVERTY . . ._ Self-imposed_50 A ‘can’t help yourself’ thing_48 Did not state 6

Canadians have love, food and dignity — but not much sex

Basically, Canadians believe they are not badly off — no matter what Ottawa says. More than 80% of all respondents polled by the Maclean’s-Goldfarb Report team judged themselves to have a great deal of love in the home, more than 70% spoke of having a great deal of dignity, friendship and food; only 8% spoke of having little or no

money, and only 2% of little food. “We are dealing here with the things Canadians consider to be important,” sociologist Goldfarb comments, “and we find that Canadians are saying that our value system is working. Our value system was never based on the number of dollars we had to spend, but on our interpersonal relationships — that’s what the whole Judeo-Christian ethic is all about. In this vital area, Canadians are doing very well.”

This table suggests two areas of concern. First, more than four out of 10 Canadians feel they have only some or little privacy, which suggests to Goldfarb that increased emphasis on housing — as opposed to other aspects of the government’s anti-poverty campaign — is necessary. Secondly, a substantial body of Canadians are dissatisfied with their sex lives. Of those polled, 34% said they received “some” sexual satisfaction, nearly one in seven said they received little or none. A further breakdown of the survey shows that many more females than males are satisfied — 45% of females said they get a good deal of sex, compared to 36% of males.

Goldfarb notes, “These findings indicate that some of the restiveness infecting the population may be due less to job dissatisfaction or lack of money, than to frustration. Perhaps the government should be looking at factors other than the economic to meet growing unrest.”


GREAT LITTLE DEAL SOME OR NONE Love 81 15 Dignity 71 26 Prejudice 29 65 Self-confidence 53 44 Food 71 26 Money 23 68 Sexual satisfaction 40 34 14 Friendship 72 23 Meaningful relation with God 48 37 15 Meaningful relation with brother/ sister/ parents 69 24 Job satisfaction 62 27 10 Privacy 56 38 Meaningful relation with church 38 37 24

How to avoid poverty

The four basic tools we need to keep out of the poorhouse are a trade, honesty, a healthy mind and a healthy body, according to the Maclean’s-Goldfarb study. Respondents were asked to grade qualities on a scale, with a maximum possible top score of five. The top four qualities were consistent among respondents of every age, wealth and educational group. “What is interesting here is that you don’t have to be wealthy to have any of these skills,” Goldfarb notes. “Once again, Canadians are saying that the measure of a man is not in dollars, but in qualities open to every single one of us.” The findings were consistent with an earlier Maclean’s-Goldfarb Report on Success, which put honesty at the top of a scale of factors leading to success.


AVERAGE RATING INDEX Maximum score: 5.0_ _RANK Having a trade 3,7_1 Honesty_37_1 Healthy mind 3.6_3 Healthy body_3/5_4 Friendly personality 3.2_5_ Neat and tidy 3.2_5 Ability to write 3.0_7 Aggressive mind 2.9_8 Manual dexterity 2.8_9 Likes to read_2.5 10 Good looks_1.5 11

Canadians are also agreed that education is important in staying out of money trouble. “The significance here,” says Goldfarb, “is the number of people who say you need at least high school to get along: there’s an implication that if you don’t get past primary school, you are deprived in some way.” □


Public school 5 Some high school 20 High school 56 Some college 9 College_9 Did not state 1