Maybe now we can finally say it out loud — poverty is in decline

National Post - Andrew Coyne


Pssst. Can I let you in on a little secret? Keep it under your hat, but — the poverty rate has fallen again. In fact, it’s at a new all-time low. Statistics Canada reports that the percentage of Canadians falling below the official poverty line in 2017 fell to 9.5 per cent, down from 15.6 per cent in 2006. That still leaves much room for improvement. But this is remarkable progress.

Of course, the official measure of poverty, known as the Market Basket Measure, has only been around for a few years. But an earlier, unofficial measure, known as the Low Income Cut Off, goes back much further. It, too, is at an all-time low, after a steady, two decades-long decline. Indeed, at 7.8 per cent, it’s barely half what it was in 1996.

So why do I call it a secret? Because for the longest time it was, if not impermissible to admit that poverty was in decline, certainly not the done thing. A vast media-academic industry had grown up around the notion that poverty was steadily getting worse, or leastways was not getting better — and could not, absent radical changes in policy.

That was at least a tenable position, when poverty was getting worse, as it was in the early 1980s and early 1990s — unsurprisingly, given the deep recessions of those two periods. But old habits die hard, and so the same story continued to be told long afterward, even in the face of a growing pile of statistical evidence to the contrary.

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