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August 13, 2017

Study: Low income among persons with a disability in Canada, 2014

If you don't see images, click the title to go to the website.

On August 11, StatsCan released the study named in the title.  They start by saying breathlessly:  "People with a disability accounted for approximately 20% of the Canadian population aged 25 to 64 in 2014, but for 41% of the low income population in the same age group."

OMG!  If only there weren't so many people with disabilities, we wouldn't have so many poor people!  

Here's the chart.  What does it tell you?

When I see something highlighted in red, I know something's up.  I am invited to conclude that lone parents with a disability are overrepresented in the low income category by a factor of 8.  Is that true?

Let's look at the numbers:

We can put this into perspective.  First off, we see there are way more people with disabilities with not low incomes than with low incomes.  About 19.3 million Canadians are between 25 and 64, 2.3 million or 12% are defined as low income.  59% of them are not people with disabilities.  The 100% stacked bars from StatsCan vastly overstate the problem.  Although lone parents with disabilities number 182,276 in the low income group, there are a nearly equal number in the not low income group.  8% of 12% is roughly the same as 1% of 88%.  The path from disability to poverty isn't so obvious.

NOT DISABLED, NO OTHER RISK12,272,793911,38272%40%
NOT DISABLED, OTHER RISK1,704,555432,90610%19%
DISABLED, OTHER RISK170,45568,3541%3%
DISABLED, LONE170,455182,2761%8%
DISABLED, UNATTACHED340,911341,7682%15%
DISABLED, NO ONTHER RISK2,386,376364,55314%16%

The curious person would ask if there may be some third variable at work.  Maybe people with disabilities share something in common with the rest of the low income group.

Poverty is a real problem in Canada, especially in the Atlantic Provinces, but connecting it with disability permits the conclusion that the two go hand in hand.  It doesn't allow for other explanations like:
  • If the Department of Community Services did a better job, you wouldn't have to choose between work and medicine.
  • If you had decent transportation, you could get to a job.
  • If you had a doctor, you wouldn't be disabled.
  • If you didn't have extra medical expenses, you wouldn't be poor.
  • If you had a decent education, you'd have some skills.
  • If employers were held accountable, you could get a job
  • If you didn't live in rural Nova Scotia, you wouldn't be poor.
  • If minimum wage regulations were enforced, you wouldn't be poor.
Instead of examining barriers to employment or education, StatsCan focuses on people's limitations, slicing and dicing types of disability, severity, age and family as if there is some magical answer to poverty hidden in the definition.

What's really at work is a failure to live up to the promises we've made.

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Disability is not the cause of poverty.  Poverty is a symptom of the unequal opportunities people with disabilities (and many others) face every day.  People with disabilities are just as capable as the rest of us.  Curing poverty needs some effort, but the association with disability has to do with barriers, not limitations.  Let's begin to:
  • End excuses for employers
  • End disincentives created by the Department of Community Services
  • End separate and unequal public transportation
  • Hold postsecondary education accountable
  • Compel government to disclose hiring statistics
  • Stop unfair and uneven minimum wage exceptions
The StatsCan study is aimless.  It does not have a single mention of statistical measures, it focuses on victims and neglects causes.  It's confirmation bias plain and simple - we deserve better from StatsCan.

Numbers are important, but we need numbers that will lead us to action, not misleading numbers that confirm false impressions

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