Big Canadian cities have highest poverty rates

A study released Monday shows urban poverty rates in Canada jumped by 34 per cent in the early 1990s. But the highest rates weren't always where researchers expected to find them.

The study looked at 47 municipalities and took the federal government's low-income cut-off as its definition of the poverty line.

That's about $27,000 for a family of four in a mid-sized Canadian city and about $31,000 in a larger centre.

Several Canadian municipalities sponsored the study by the Canadian Council of Social Development.

"Poverty was high in a lot of different cities that you might not expect," says head researcher Kevin Lee. "Places like Toronto and Vancouver saw some quite high poverty rates and a lot of people might have thought that these were fairly economically healthy areas."

The study used data from the two national censuses carried out in the 1990s, and it shows that in Canada, high poverty is becoming a city-centre phenomenon.

Central Canadian cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa not only had rates two or three times as high as the satellite cities around them, they also had higher rates of poverty than traditionally depressed areas like Cape Breton and Newfoundland.

Quebec cities fared particularly badly: 41 per cent of Montrealers were found to live below the poverty line, a jump of 10 per cent in just five years. More than half of all Montreal children were found to be poor.

The report shows that despite government promises to eliminate child poverty by 2000, it has grown in step with adult poverty, a fact Lee doesn't find surprising.

"When you look at a child poverty rate, you're actually looking at the rate of poverty among the house that they live in, and families with kids can be quite vulnerable to poverty," says Lee.