Canadians enjoy high levels of well-being but some challenges remain

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

Overall summary

Overall, compared with other countries, Canada performs well on many measures of well-being. According to the Better Life Index, which is developed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada outperforms the average of OECD countries in each of the eleven topics which comprise the index.

Based on Canada’s Official Poverty Line, the poverty rate has declined through time. Poverty rates have been going down for most sub-segments of the population; however, some groups face continued challenges. For these vulnerable groups, economic and social barriers play a role in preventing them from fully participating in the workforce and contributing to Canada’s prosperity. Some of the barriers faced by members of certain vulnerable groups relate to employment and workforce participation, education, income, and homelessness.

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Canadians enjoy high levels of well-being but some challenges remain (complete version) [PDF – 347 KB]

Canada performs well on many measures of well-being

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Better Life Index shows that Canada performs well

Figure 1: The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index*
Figure 1 – Text version
Table 1: The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index*
Index topics* Canada OECD average
Life satisfaction 9.1 6.2
Jobs 8.0 6.8
Education 7.9 6.3
Housing 7.8 5.9
Community 7.6 6.1
Work-life balance 7.3 6.8
Income 5.4 3.4

* Excludes indicators for Environment, Civic Engagement, Health and Safety.

Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Better Life Index.

The number of Canadians below Canada's Official Poverty Line is declining

The proportion of Canadians living in poverty is declining over time, but some segments of the population face continued challenges

Figure 2: Canada’s Official Poverty Line and after-tax low income measure: All Canadians poverty rates (%)
Figure 2 – Text version
Table 2: Canada’s Official Poverty Line and after-tax low income measure: All Canadians poverty rates (%)
Year After-tax low income measure Canada's Official Poverty Line*
2000 12.8% N/A
2001 12.5% N/A
2002 12.9% N/A
2003 13.2% N/A
2004 13.4% N/A
2005 13.0% N/A
2006 13.4% 15.6%
2007 13.3% 13.9%
2008 13.4% 12.4%
2009 13.7% 13.4%
2010 13.5% 12.3%
2011 13.3% 12.7%
2012 13.7% 12.7%
2013 13.4% 12.1%
2014 13.0% 11.3%
2015 14.2% 12.1%
2016 13.0% 10.6%
2017 12.7% 9.5%

*The current Market Basket Measure base year for Canada’s Official Poverty Line is 2008 and this series starts in 2006.

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Income Survey.

Figure 3: Canada’s Official Poverty Line, 2006 and 2017, Sub-segments of the population, poverty rates (%)
Figure 3 – Text version
Table 3: Canada’s Official Poverty Line, 2006 and 2017, Sub-segments of the population, poverty rates (%)
Population sub-segments 2006 2017
Seniors 7.6% 3.9%
Children 19.2% 9.0%
All Canadians 15.6% 9.5%
Recent immigrants * 23.2% 16.5%
Persons with disabilities (18 to 64 years)** 21.6% 17.9%
Indigenous (off-reserve)*** 24.4% 19.4%
Female lone-parent 46.8% 24.8%
Single (excluding seniors) 38.7% 31.5%

* Recent immigrants are those who immigrated to Canada within ten years of the survey year.

** For persons with disabilities, the first year in the series is 2013. No comparable data exist for prior years.

*** There are currently no estimates for Indigenous on-reserve poverty rates based on Canada’s Official Poverty Line. It is expected that Indigenous on-reserve poverty rates are higher than Indigenous off-reserve.

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Income Survey.

Vulnerable populations continue to face barriers to fully participating in the workforce and contributing to Canada's prosperity

Canadians’ workforce participation is high but some groups face challenges finding employment

Figure 4: Labour force statistics, 15 to 64 years
Figure 4 – Text version
Table 4: Labour force statistics, 15 to 64 years
Year Employment rate Unemployment rate
1976 63.1% 7.2%
1977 62.9% 8.1%
1978 63.7% 8.5%
1979 65.4% 7.6%
1980 66.1% 7.6%
1981 67.0% 7.7%
1982 63.9% 11.2%
1983 63.7% 12.2%
1984 64.6% 11.5%
1985 66.0% 10.6%
1986 67.4% 9.7%
1987 68.6% 8.9%
1988 70.0% 7.8%
1989 70.8% 7.6%
1990 70.3% 8.2%
1991 68.3% 10.4%
1992 66.8% 11.3%
1993 66.5% 11.5%
1994 67.0% 10.5%
1995 67.5% 9.6%
1996 67.3% 9.7%
1997 68.0% 9.2%
1998 68.9% 8.4%
1999 70.0% 7.7%
2000 70.9% 6.9%
2001 70.8% 7.3%
2002 71.4% 7.7%
2003 72.2% 7.6%
2004 72.5% 7.3%
2005 72.4% 6.8%
2006 72.8% 6.4%
2007 73.5% 6.1%
2008 73.5% 6.2%
2009 71.4% 8.4%
2010 71.5% 8.1%
2011 71.8% 7.6%
2012 72.1% 7.4%
2013 72.4% 7.2%
2014 72.3% 7.0%
2015 72.5% 7.0%
2016 72.6% 7.1%
2017 73.4% 6.4%
2018 73.8% 5.9%

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey.

Figure 5: Employment rates (%), 2018*, 25 to 64 years**
Figure 5 – Text version
Table 5: Employment rates (%), 2018*, 25 to 64 years**
Vulnerable populations Employment rate
All Canadians 78%
Persons with disabilities 59%
Indigenous (off-reserve) 68%
Female lone-parent (15 to 54 years) 70%
Recent immigrants*** 74%
Single (excluding seniors) 75%

* The employment rate for Persons with Disabilities is for 2017.

** Unless otherwise specified, such as Female Lone-Parent.

*** Recent immigrants are those who immigrated to Canada within 10 years of the survey year.

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Canadian Survey on Disability.

Canada has the highest education levels in OECD, but not all groups are participating equally

Figure 6: Share (%) with college and university education*, 2017, 25 to 64 Years
Figure 6 – Text version
Table 6: Share (%) with college and university education*, 2017, 25 to 64 Years
Country Share of population
Canada 57%
Japan 51%
United Kingdom 46%
USA 46%
OECD Average 38%

* Refers to OECD definition of Tertiary education which excludes trade and apprenticeship education.

Figures are rounded.

Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Education at a glance: Educational attainment and labour-force status.

Figure 7: Real average wages, 2018 ($), by educational attainment, 25 to 64 Years
Figure 7 – Text version
Table 7: Real average wages, 2018 ($), by educational attainment, 25 to 64 Years
Year Grade 11 to 13, Graduate Post-secondary certificate or diploma University: Bachelors degree University: Graduate degree
2000 $22.27 $25.33 $31.55 $36.37
2001 $22.24 $25.44 $31.79 $36.22
2002 $22.24 $25.64 $31.94 $37.07
2003 $21.90 $25.44 $31.52 $36.40
2004 $22.08 $25.55 $31.76 $36.89
2005 $22.62 $25.51 $31.59 $36.41
2006 $22.54 $25.77 $32.05 $36.90
2007 $22.70 $26.21 $32.12 $36.97
2008 $23.01 $26.57 $32.64 $37.62
2009 $23.43 $27.17 $33.55 $38.18
2010 $23.55 $27.22 $33.10 $37.69
2011 $23.22 $26.91 $32.74 $37.31
2012 $23.56 $27.09 $32.92 $37.81
2013 $23.62 $27.51 $33.17 $37.88
2014 $23.59 $27.45 $33.18 $37.30
2015 $23.96 $27.82 $33.40 $37.74
2016 $23.72 $27.70 $33.52 $38.54
2017 $23.71 $27.74 $33.49 $38.07
2018 $23.96 $27.72 $33.22 $37.80

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey.

Figure 8: Population share with post-secondary education* (%), 2016, 25 to 64 Years
Figure 8 – Text version
Table 8: Population share with post-secondary education* (%), 2016, 25 to 64 Years
Vulnerable populations Population share
All Canadians 65%
Indigenous (off-reserve) 52%
Persons with disabilities 56%
Single (excluding seniors) 61%
Female lone-parent 61%
Recent immigrants** 74%

* Canadian post secondary education includes trades and apprenticeship, college and university.

** Recent immigrants are those who immigrated to Canada within five years of the survey year.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Population, Canadian Survey on Disability.

Canada is a prosperous country but some groups have income significantly below the average

Figure 9: Real median after tax income*, 2017 ($), economic family types
Figure 9 – Text version
Table 9: Real median after tax income*, 2017 ($), economic family types
Year All Canadians Families (excluding seniors) Single (excluding seniors) Seniors (families)
1976 $52,200 $65,100 $28,800 $34,100
1977 $53,100 $66,300 $29,600 $34,600
1978 $53,100 $66,500 $29,200 $36,600
1979 $52,500 $66,500 $30,200 $36,900
1980 $53,800 $67,400 $29,300 $40,500
1981 $52,400 $66,400 $30,800 $38,500
1982 $50,800 $64,000 $29,800 $40,800
1983 $48,900 $62,500 $26,600 $38,700
1984 $49,400 $63,200 $27,500 $39,200
1985 $49,600 $64,200 $27,500 $40,800
1986 $49,300 $64,600 $27,400 $41,300
1987 $49,100 $64,400 $27,600 $41,300
1988 $50,400 $66,200 $28,100 $41,900
1989 $51,100 $66,600 $29,400 $44,700
1990 $49,000 $64,500 $27,400 $46,400
1991 $46,400 $62,000 $25,300 $43,400
1992 $46,900 $62,700 $24,100 $43,600
1993 $45,700 $60,700 $24,800 $42,900
1994 $46,000 $61,800 $23,500 $43,700
1995 $45,900 $61,300 $24,300 $44,700
1996 $45,200 $61,500 $23,400 $43,800
1997 $45,100 $61,800 $23,100 $43,200
1998 $46,300 $64,500 $23,700 $43,000
1999 $48,300 $66,300 $25,300 $44,800
2000 $48,600 $67,600 $26,000 $44,800
2001 $50,600 $70,600 $27,300 $46,600
2002 $50,500 $70,100 $28,600 $47,300
2003 $50,500 $70,600 $27,900 $46,900
2004 $50,800 $71,600 $27,800 $47,800
2005 $52,000 $72,700 $28,100 $49,200
2006 $53,100 $75,100 $28,500 $50,800
2007 $54,600 $77,100 $29,400 $53,100
2008 $55,300 $78,800 $30,700 $53,000
2009 $55,200 $79,300 $30,500 $53,400
2010 $54,700 $80,000 $30,700 $52,200
2011 $54,500 $80,900 $28,900 $53,600
2012 $56,000 $82,600 $30,200 $56,100
2013 $56,400 $82,500 $31,700 $55,800
2014 $57,900 $85,500 $31,000 $56,800
2015 $57,700 $85,100 $30,300 $59,200
2016 $57,900 $86,100 $30,800 $58,700
2017 $59,800 $87,600 $31,900 $61,200

* Canadian Income Survey income variables are captured for persons 16 years or older.

Figures are rounded.

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Income Survey.

Figure 10: Median after tax income*, 2017, economic family types
Figure 10 – Text version
Table 10: Median after tax income*, 2017, economic family types
Vulnerable populations Median income
All Canadians  $59,800
Single (excluding seniors)  $31,900
Persons with disabilities (18 to 64 years)  $35,600
Female lone-parent  $47,700
Recent immigrants**  $49,400
Indigenous (off-reserve)  $52,000

* Canadian Income Survey income variables are captured for persons 16 years or older.

** Recent immigrants are those who immigrated to Canada within five years of the survey year.

Figures are rounded.

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Income Survey.

Homelessness and shelter occupancy rates remain high and some groups are at greater risk

Figure 11: Estimated annual shelter users and national shelter occupancy rate
Figure 11 – Text version
Table 11: Estimated annual shelter users and national shelter occupancy rate
Year Annual shelter users Occupancy rate
2005 156,000 83%
2006 151,000 82%
2007 156,000 79%
2008 152,000 86%
2009 147,000 95%
2010 142,000 83%
2011 137,000 86%
2012 141,000 92%
2013 134,000 91%
2014 137,000 92%
2015 133,000 91%
2016 129,000 91%

Source: Employment and Social Development Canada, National Shelter Study, 2005 to 2016.

Figure 12: Demographic breakdown of shelter users, 2016
Figure 12 – Text version
Table 12: Demographic breakdown of shelter users, 2016
Shelter residents 2016
Unaccompanied youth (13 to 24) 17%
Female 30%
Indigenous 31%
Male 70%
Single 84%

Source: Employment and Social Development Canada, National Shelter Study, 2005 to 2016.

Data are current as of September 20, 2019.

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