New Brunswick

Despite anti-poverty efforts, little has changed for rural poor, sociologist says

One of the architects of New Brunswick’s poverty reduction strategy says some progress had been made, but when it comes to rural poverty not much has changed, according to one academic

Aspects of poverty in rural areas are often misunderstood, says Susan Machum of STU

The federal government says rural families need less income than urban ones to survive, but a St. Thomas University sociologist says this conclusion doesn't take everything into account. (Supplied)

It's been almost a decade since the Liberal government of Shawn Graham introduced New Brunswick's poverty reduction plan titled "Overcoming Poverty Together" in Nov. 2009.

But when it comes to rural poverty, not much has changed, according to a former Canada research chair in rural social justice.

Susan Machum, the dean of social sciences at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said the view on the ground is similar to the way it was before the strategy was introduced.

"It looks very similar as it did before," said Machum.

"Not having the same standard of living as people in urban areas in general,"

Differences and similarities

Machum said that while the experiences of people living in poverty are similar in rural and urban communities, since  it boils down to having a lack of resources, there are differences in what that poverty looks like.

Machum said there is a misconception that people living in rural areas don't need as much money to survive as people do in urban areas.

According to the federal government, she said, a family of four in an urban setting needs about $38,000 to meet basic needs, but families living in rural areas only need about $25,000.

Machum said this is largely because of housing costs, but the numbers ignore some of the costs that are essentially mandatory for living in rural areas, one example being transportation.

"Many rural communities do not have public infrastructure for transportation anymore," she said.

It costs $8,000 to $10,000 a year to keep a car on the road, she said.

And a car is essential to get to work if you live in rural New Brunswick, as opposed to urban areas, which have public transportation and taxis, even if flawed.

Employment and housing

Even the work in rural areas doesn't pay as much, by and large, as work in urban areas, Machum said.

"Work is traditionally lower-paid in rural communities because it tends to be focused on farming, fishing, forestry," she said.

In housing, there are even greater differences, she said.

According to Machum, rural residents have fewer choices, and the housing that is available is often inadequate.

"Often the argument will be, 'Well, rural populations own their own homes,'" said Machum.

"But the quality of those homes, and the draftiness and whether those homes are warm are other issues that don't get talked about."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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