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The feminization of poverty.

In a decade when many Canadians are earning less money than in the past, women are among the worst off. In 1992, women made only 61.7% of what men made. For men, the median income (the exact halfway point between the highest and lowest incomes) was $25,100. For women it was $15,500, $9,600 less. While this marked a gain of 4% over 1991 earnings, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NACSW) reported at the same time that 'the lives of the majority of Canadian women continue to get harder, many women are poorer this year and their working conditions are deteriorating."

Its report, Review of the Situation of Women in Canada in 1992, added that only a fraction of women -- white and well-educated -- are gaining, but at a "glacial pace."

The study also found:

* More women than ever are in the work force. In January 1992, 56% of women over 15 -- about 6 million -- were employed. That's about 45% of the labour force;

* In January 1992, the unemployment rate for women was 10.1%, up from 9.3% in 1991, with the greatest jump among those with less than Grade 9.

* Between 1981 and 1987, women's service-sector wages fell by 10% across the country, and 84% of working women are employed in that sector.

* In Quebec, from September to October 1991 27,000 of 28,000 jobs lost in the service sector were held by women.

* Women's under-employment or involuntary part-time work jumped 41% over the previous two years. In the same period, fewer women reported wanting part-time work.

At the same time, the Conservative federal government eliminated universal family allowances; cancelled promised child-care programs; placed restrictions on the entry of foreign domestic workers; cut training programs for women not in the workforce; and, cancelled funding for cooperative housing, according to the NACSW report.

A Statistics Canada report, Women in Canada, explains that the growing numbers of women living without spouses has added to the feminization of low income in Canada. Together with female lone-parent families, women who live alone, particularly elderly women, made up a disproportionately large share of those with low incomes by the mid-1980s.

Statistics Canada says that lone-parent families, both male and female, have average incomes substantially less than those of husband-wife families. However, the difference is enormous for women on their own: female and male lone-parent families earned $18,945 and $38,891 respectively, compared with $48,708 for husband-wife families in 1987. And, although husband-wife and male lone-parent families have attained or exceeded pre-recession income levels (1981), this has not yet happened for female lone-parent families. Not surprisingly more lone-parent families headed by women are below Statistics Canada's low income cut-offs.

The financial problems of divorced women are due partly to the fact that fewer than 20% of men who walk out continue to help support their children. According to Statistics Canada, the average amount of alimony and child support received by families in 1988 was $4,600 a year, before taxes, or $383 a month. On average, this accounted for only 15% of the family income.

The report points out that pension income is generally lower for women, leaving elderly, unattached women among the poorest Canadians. In 1987, their average income was $13,596, 75% of the average for unattached women aged 15-64, and 85% of the average for elderly, unattached men. That year, 274,000 of 626,000 elderly, unattached Canadian women, or 44%, had incomes below the low-income cut-offs (1978 base).

Most Canadians who have jobs contribute to and are eligible for Canada or Quebec Pension Plan (CPP/QPP) pensions and benefits. But, to qualify for these programs you have to be part of the labour force. Benefits depend on the length of time worked and the size of contributions, fewer women receive benefits, and the benefits they do receive are less than those of men.

Participation in private pension plans also is lower for women. This is because they are concentrated in both part-time work and in industries where pension plan coverage is less extensive than in industries where men predominate. Furthermore, the effectiveness of these plans is weakened by a variety of restrictions. These include: a general lack of pension portability from job to job; the difficulty of splitting benefits upon divorce; inflation; and limited or sometimes non-existent benefits for spouses if the recipient dies.

Poor paying jobs, involuntary part-time work, unemployment, poor child-care, cuts in social programs, and lower pension incomes all add up to a bleak picture for almost half of Canada's labour force.


1. It's been said that the highest hourly pay rate women can earn is in prostitution. Discuss what this says about our society.

2. Appoint a team of students to investigate your province's employment laws and write a report on equal-pay-for-work-of-equal-value legislation. Try for class consensus on whether the laws go far enough in protecting the rights of women.
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Title Annotation:Poverty - Women
Author:Taylor, Linda E.
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Date:Oct 1, 1994
Previous Article:At least the hotelier won't starve.
Next Article:Who's taking care of the child-care workers.

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