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Poverty Among Senior Citizens: A Canadian Success Story

In: The State of Economics in Canada: Festschrift in Honour of David Slater

Lars Osberg makes the case in his paper that the major success story of Canadian social policy in the twentieth century has in fact been the reduction of poverty among senior citizens. According to Osberg, the poverty rate, defined with the poverty line measured as one-half median equivalent income after taxes and transfers, for households headed by a person 65 or over fell from 28.4 per cent in 1973 to 5.4 per cent in 1997, while the poverty gap or income shortfall below the poverty line fell from 26.2 per cent to 15.8 per cent over the same period. In contrast, the elderly poverty rate and gap before tax and transfer income are much higher and show no downward trend. Osberg attributes the difference between the before and after transfers and taxes poverty rate and gap to the introduction of the Old Age Security in 1952 and Guaranteed Income Supplement in 1968 and the reduction in poverty after 1973 to the maturing of the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan regimes established in 1966. Osberg notes that income trends capture only part of the improvement in well-being enjoyed by seniors over the past several decades. Many of the current elderly population received significant capital gains from a large run up in housing prices in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, the elderly have not been hit by the labour market insecurity that has affected the non-elderly, particularly youth, in the 1980s and 1990s. They have also greatly benefited from the introduction of universal medicare. Osberg also finds that relative to the United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom, Canada has done the best job in boosting the income levels of seniors above the poverty line. In his view, Canada has done a remarkable job in ensuring that senior citizens receive an income sufficient to prevent poverty.

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This chapter was published in: Patrick Grady & Andrew Sharpe (ed.) The State of Economics in Canada: Festschrift in Honour of David Slater, Centre for the Study of Living Standards, pages 151-181, 2001.
This item is provided by Centre for the Study of Living Standards in its series The State of Economics in Canada: Festschrift in Honour of David Slater with number 08.
Handle: RePEc:sls:secfds:08
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  1. Kuan Xu & Lars Osberg, 2000. "The Social Welfare Implications, Decomposability, and Geometry of the Sen Family of Poverty Indices," Department of Economics at Dalhousie University working papers archive sendeco, Dalhousie, Department of Economics.
  2. Lars Osberg & Kuan Xu, 2000. "International Comparisons of Poverty Intensity: Index Decomposition and Bootstrap Inference," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 35(1), pages 51-81.
  3. Osberg, Lars & Erksoy, Sadettin & Phipps, Shelley, 1998. "How to Value the Poorer Prospects of Youth in the Early 1990s?," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 44(1), pages 43-62, March.
  4. Zheng, Buhong, 1997. " Aggregate Poverty Measures," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(2), pages 123-62, June.
  5. Michael Baker & Gary Solon, 1998. "Earnings Dynamics and Inequality among Canadian Men, 1976-1992: Evidence from Longitudinal Income Tax Records," Working Papers baker-98-01, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  6. Lars Osberg, 1998. "Economic Insecurity," Discussion Papers 0088, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
  7. Sen, Amartya K, 1976. "Poverty: An Ordinal Approach to Measurement," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 44(2), pages 219-31, March.
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