THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The recession stopped progress on poverty in its tracks, according to new data from Statistics Canada that indicates almost one in 10 Canadians is considered poor.
In its first detailed, national picture of what happened to income in Canada during the recession, the agency says the poverty rate edged up in 2009 to 9.6 per cent -- the second straight year that poverty has grown after more than a decade of steady declines.
About 3.2 million people now live in low income, including 634,000 children.
Indeed, children were vulnerable during the recession, with their poverty rate rising to 9.5 per cent in 2009 from 9.0 per cent a year earlier.
But the picture of the recession is one of stagnation rather than complete catastrophe. The median after-tax income for Canadian families was $63,800 in 2009 -- about the same as a year earlier.
In the past, recessions have deepened poverty in Canada for years, and exacerbated the gap between rich and poor. Many analysts feared the pattern was repeating itself.
So far, that doesn't seem to be the case. While the national poverty picture isn't pretty, the number of people in the top, middle and bottom echelons of income in Canada remained fairly steady as the recession took hold.
About 55 per cent of Canadians benefitted from an increase in their after-tax income in 2009, while 45 per cent suffered a decline. Before the recession, in 2007, income rose for 58 per cent and declined for 42 per cent.
Poverty among seniors fell in 2009, to 5.2 per cent from 5.8 per cent in 2008. Seniors have the lowest incidence of poverty of all the demographics, according to the main Statistics Canada measure of poverty, called the low-income cut-off.
And single mothers have also shown remarkable improvement. While poverty is still high for single moms, at 21.5 per cent, that's an improvement from the 23.4 per cent in 2008, and a continuation of the steady declines noted since 2002.
Now, about 22 per cent children living with a single mother were considered poor, compared with a troubling 56 per cent in 1996.
StatsCan has not explored why, but other analysts point to the advent of government programs and benefits for children over the past decade, as well as a growing number of women in the workforce, and tougher enforcement of rules for support payments from fathers.
Regionally, the East was poorer than the West, but the West was bitten by the recession all the same. Poverty jumped in Manitoba, rose slightly in Saskatchewan, and soared in Alberta -- to 10 per cent in 2009 from about six per cent in 2008.