The overall picture of poverty in Montréal; 2020 Greater Montréal’s Vital Signs Report
Community challenge highlights
Greater Montréal, a developed region that is still experiencing some poverty issues
Reducing poverty is the first goal that any society must aspire to in order to ensure its sustainable and equitable development. A true human and societal drama, poverty is the source of many ills and literally endangers our fellow citizens who don’t have enough to eat, clothe themselves, or lead fulfilling lives. This drama is all the more painful when it touches children. Montréal, both as a city and a region, is quite developed and is situated near one of the most powerful economies in the world. Still, in certain neighbourhoods and sectors, many people experience poverty. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal on poverty is broken down into five sub-goals that all aim at diminishing poverty or mitigating poverty’s impact. The main axes are: reduction of poverty and elimination of its most extreme forms, the implementation of social support measures and wealth redistribution, and the mitigation of the effects of economic, social and environmental disasters on the very poorest, who feel their impacts more than anyone.
Reducing and eliminating poverty
Extreme poverty in absolute terms is defined as someone living on $1.90 US per day.16 Obviously, this doesn’t take into account the relative nature of poverty. Cost of living being different from one society to another, the value of this sum isn’t the same in Dakar as it would be in Montréal. Still, according to the World Bank,10 % of the world’s population lives under this daily income threshold.17 Greater Montréal’s residents, with the exception of some individuals experiencing homelessness, all earn more than $1.90 US per day; and yet, that doesn’t mean that poverty has been eliminated. Some of the region’s neighbourhoods and sectors continue to be home to too many people living in poverty.
Based on these methods of measuring poverty, is Montréal doing better or worse than it was 20 years ago?
If you use the MBM, in general, the situation in Greater Montréal has improved, as it has throughout Quebec. In 2017, 11.6 % of Montrealers did not have enough income to purchase the basic goods and services needed to live a full life in our society. In 2006 (the first year for which this measurement is available), that percentage stood at 14.6 %. Again, using this standard, the poverty rate for Greater Montréal is 2.6 points higher than that of Quebec for 2017. Over time, we see a trend emerging, as Montréal systematically posts a higher rate than the Quebec average.
Poverty and age
Even if MBM constitutes an absolute and general measurement of poverty, it looks at people in different age groups in different ways. For instance, the elderly are more likely to live in poverty in Greater Montréal. In 2017, 21.3 % of families that included at least one elderly person were experiencing poverty. We should note, though, that the picture has brightened a bit since 2006.
The impact of taxation and transfers
Do social measures (income tax and financial transfers) have the effect of diminishing the numbers of people who experience poverty? We can examine this using data on the Low Income Measure (50 % of the median income) with income examined after tax. This is a relative measure, but it nonetheless allows to more easily compare the metropolitan area with other areas.
In 2017, the proportion of individuals with low income was 15.7 %, or 1.3 percentage points higher than the rate for the whole of Quebec. That marker has remained stable over the years, with Montréal’s rate has generally staying higher than the Quebec average since the middle of the 2000s.
As this is a relative measure, it is tied to any increase in disposable income. Therefore, while people experiencing poverty might have seen their situation improve in absolute terms, it hasn’t budged when compared to the rest of the population.
Furthermore, the concentrations of people in poverty are not equal throughout all municipalities in the Montréal region. The centre is definitely more problematic than the North or South Shore.
Montréal, the child poverty capital of Quebec
A 2018 analysis of poverty by federal electoral riding from the Campaign 2000 organization found that the four Quebec ridings experiencing the highest child poverty rates were situated in Montréal. 20 Conversely, Montréal’s suburbs stood out in a positive way, since they featured some of the lowest child poverty rates in Canada.
Persistence of poverty
One element that stands out from our survey of the available data is the persistence of poverty. That people should have to live in poverty even temporarily is dramatic enough, but the fact that this situation is repeated year after year attests to a more serious underlying issue. In this vein, the statistics that illustrate poverty in Greater Montréal paint a very disturbing picture.
Thus, 5.3 % of the population in the Montréal CMA were in the low income category for the eight years comprised by 2010 to 2017. Worse yet, not only has that percentage not diminished since 2000, but it has actually increased. Breaking the cycle of poverty appears to be very difficult for these individuals.
That said, if we compare the situation with that of other major Canadian cities, the poverty seen in Montréal was, at least since 2006, compensated for by a cost of living that is lower than that of Vancouver or Toronto. Until now, using the MBM, we have been able to conclude that there was a sizeable number of persons living in poverty, but that this situation was still causing less damage than in the other two municipalities. However, the latest data tend to show that the three cities are in fact converging on the poverty front, since Montréal’s situation hasn’t improved, while the other cities have managed to reduce the number of people living in poverty.
The social safety net
There are several poverty reduction strategies. The global reduction of inequalities is one of them, and will be explored in greater depth in Chapter 10. We can also increase the incomes of the less well-off. Another method is to have the state, using financial or other transfers, assist those who are living in poverty.
Increase the incomes of the less well-off
Notwithstanding steady economic growth over the last 10 years, disposable per capita income is still lower in Montréal than it is in other large North American cities.21 Montréal has not closed the gap with Toronto; it has stood at about $4,000 since 2006. As well, the gap with Vancouver widened during this time, going over $5,000.
Assistance from the state
Several programs support persons who are living in poverty, including social assistance, employment insurance, and income supplements. The number of assistance programs currently offered is about the same as it was in 2000. However, poverty rates really haven’t declined significantly in the 20 intervening years. We can therefore conclude that we do a reasonably good job of supporting people living in poverty, without truly changing the dynamics of their situation. The government program that best demonstrates the social support given to people living with poverty is social assistance. While the number of beneficiaries has dropped overall through the years, it remains higher on the island of Montréal than for Quebec as a whole for people under 65 years of age.
The situation of children is troubling, too. Indeed, on the island of Montréal in 2019, 8 % of children lived in a household receiving social assistance. That rate is much higher than it is in the rest of Quebec (4.6 %).
Community challenge sources
The Foundation of Greater Montréal (FGM) is a community foundation dedicated to the collective well-being of Greater Montreal.
Community foundations are institutions that work to bring people together, and make sure philanthropic funds are managed in a way that meets priority needs identified in their region. Their mission also includes fostering philanthropy, connecting community leaders and being catalysts in the search for innovative and sustainable solutions to the issues facing their communities. To learn more, visit The Foundation of Greater Montréal (FGM) website.
About VITAL SIGNS: The Vital SignsTM report, conducted by several community foundations under the coordination of Community Foundations of Canada, draws on local data to measure the vitality of our communities and support actions that improve quality of life.
IDQ Team who worked on this report:
Jean-Guy Côté, associate director
Sonny Scarfone, economist
Simon Savard, economist
Karl Zayat, collaborator
Jérôme Boivin, graphist
Sarah Marchand, editor
Thanks to Maringo Conseil
Links to the challenge
Accessed on 22-March-2022 from:
Table of Contents
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):Learn about SDGs
Aiming to reduce poverty
Aiming to reduce inequalities