The death of the long-form census has left Hamilton full of “black holes” of neighbourhood data, leaving out many of its poorest areas.
According to a new report from the Social Planning and Research Council, that could lead to bad policy choices and inappropriate spending that won’t help the people who need it most.
That means decisions on social program funding will be made “scrambling in the dark,” says Sara Mayo, social planner with the council.
“It’s a huge concern in Hamilton,” she said. “It’s vital to have data from these neighbourhoods.”
Statistics Canada won’t be publishing neighbourhood data from sixteen City of Hamilton census tracts, compared to just two in 2006 when the mandatory long form census was still being used. Under the current National Household Survey — which is voluntary — the Hamilton CMA has 17 census tracts with missing data, second only to Montreal.
The long-form census was scrapped by the Conservatives in 2010. Statistics Canada published the final batch of data from the National Household Survey Wednesday, but the release was delayed for a month because of a glitch in the agency's formulas.
Neighbourhoods in Hamilton for which there is no viable data include:
- Lower city: Keith, Landsdale, Crownpoint West, St. Clair, parts of Central, Beasley, Stipley, Crownpoint East Homeside, including parts of Jamesville, Sherman and Crown Point Hubs
- Mountain neighbourhoods: Bonnington, St. Joseph Hospital site on West 5th
- Rural Ancaster
Even in neighbourhoods where adequate data does exist, it can’t be compared to previous long form census data because the surveys are so different, Mayo says. That means trends can’t be properly measured.
“We know the census wasn’t perfect, but at least we could compare trends,” she said.
Mayo says that under the National Household Survey, the populations that are “most vulnerable and already excluded from mainstream policy” are going to be left out of decision making consideration even more.
“Who are the people falling through the cracks? Is it the recent immigrant? Or the urban Aboriginal? Or a low-income earner?” asked Tom Cooper, the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
“It is certainly a huge issue. That information is needed to make more informed choices,” Cooper said.
It also calls into question any data about positive changes for poverty and unemployment in Hamilton, he added.
“How seriously can you take that info if you don’t have those numbers?” he asked. “And if we are in fact doing better, we want to know why.”
High-income earners are also missing from most new data, according the to SPRC report. With the National Household Survey, 21 per cent of Canada’s millionaires are missing from the survey.
“This means that the picture of inequality, one of today’s most pressing and all-encompassing issues, is blurred,” Mayo writes in the report.
“We won’t be able to properly measure the impacts of public policies that are acting to increase or reduce it.”
The median family income in Canada is $76,000 — generally higher in the west than the east — while the median individual income is just $27,600. That means just as many individuals earn less than $27,600 as earn more.
The richest 10 per cent of individuals are making more than $80,400. And the very rich — the 272,600 individuals who make up the top one per cent — are all making more than $191,100.
Those people are making an average of $381,300 each, 10 times the average Canadian income of $38,700. The large discrepancy between the median and the average suggests there is a very small percentage of the super-rich.