Only 9% of all Canadians were considered poor in 2007. It was the lowest rate of low income in 30 years. But that was before the recession hit last fall. We don’t yet have income data for 2008, but, if past experience is anything to go by, poverty rates will go up again as declining economic growth shows up in the numbers. And that’s bad news for women whose high rates of poverty remain unaddressed.
Women on their own are the poorest of the poor, especially women raising children in lone-parent families, who are almost five times more likely to be poor than those in two-parent families. Yet their plight has been virtually ignored by the policy-makers. Older women on their own are also13 times more likely to be poor than seniors living in families, with more than 14% of them having had low incomes in 2007. That these two groups of women had such high rates of poverty, at a time when poverty rates for others had dropped to relatively low levels, must surely be a cause for serious concern.
Women are also among the poorest of the poor within Canada’s most vulnerable populations: Aboriginal people, people from racialized communities, recent immigrants (many of whom are also from racialized communities), and persons with disabilities. As one report puts it, “Gender creates a cleavage of vulnerability that cuts across all other groups.”
The roots of women’s poverty can be found in the way they are treated when they are in paid employment, and the situation in which they find themselves if they are not. Women who work full-time year-round earn only 71% of the average earnings of men working full-time. Wage gaps between women and men are even higher when hourly wage rates are compared. Most women don’t have pension plans at work, nor do most men, but women’s low wages make it almost impossible for them to save for retirement.
Public pension plans such as Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan provide...