Poverty and income inequality in Canada compared to other OECD countries

Posted on April 15, 2009 in Equality Policy Context, Governance Debates, Social Security Debates

Canada Without Poverty / Canada sans pauvreté – list serve – Poverty and income inequality in Canada compared to other OECD countries
April 15, 2009,   Rob Rainer, Executive Director/directeur général

How does Canada compare to other OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) states with respect to (1) the percentage of our population living in poverty and (2) income inequality?  According to the OECD, in the mid-2000s Canada’s poverty rate (using the indicator of 50% of median income) was higher and income inequality was greater than the OECD average.  These findings are based on fascinating data and information published in October 2008 by the OECD.  See: Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries http://www.oecd.org/document/53/0,3343,en_2649_33933_41460917_1_1_1_1,00.html  For Canada-specific summary information, see also http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/44/48/41525292.pdf

The OECD also found in this study that “incomes are more equally distributed and fewer people are poor where social spending is high: the Nordic countries and western European countries, such as Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Social spending on people of working age was 7-8% of national income in 2005 and the share of working-age people in poverty was between 5% and 8%.  At the other end of the spectrum, Korea, Mexico, Turkey and the United States spent 2% or less of national income on benefits and had 12-15% of the working age population in poverty.”

For a fascinating exploration of income distribution, poverty and social spending for the OECD countries over time, go to the next link below.  This will take you to interactive graphs that allow you to select two social indicators at a time, for one or more countries at a time, and explore and compare the interactions.


Canada Without Poverty has downloaded three publicly-available graphs or tables from the OECD report and formatted them into PowerPoint slides ready for viewing.  These graphs show how Canada compares with other OECD countries with respect to our poverty rate and income inequality.  Click twice on the file attached (Poverty and inequality in OECD countries.ppsx) and either save directly or open directly for viewing. 

Lastly, we have also prepared a 1-page Word document (attached) that triggers the question – just what is Canada’s poverty rate?  The answer depends on the indicator one chooses.  The table in the document shows that, for the mid-2000s, Canada’s poverty rate might have been as low as 5% or as high as 19% – depending on the indicator chosen.  Using the 50% of median income indicator (as the OECD does), Canada’s poverty rate in the mid-2000s was 13%.

Rob Rainer
Executive Director/directeur général
Canada Without Poverty / Canada sans pauvreté
(Formally the National Anti-Poverty Organization)
(Officiellement l’Organisation nationale anti-pauvreté)
1210 – 1 rue Nicholas Street
Ottawa ON K1N 7B7 Canada
613-789-0096 (1-800-810-1076)
613-244-5777 (fax)
rob@cwp-csp.ca; www.cwp-csp.ca

Combating poverty, deprivation and exclusion is not a matter of charity, and it does not depend on how rich a country is.  By tackling poverty as a matter of human rights obligation, the world will have a better chance of abolishing this scourge in our lifetime.  Poverty eradication is an achievable goal.

Louise Arbour, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day 2006

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 at 1:00 am and is filed under Equality Policy Context, Governance Debates, Social Security Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply