One in seven (2.4 million) Canadian women live in poverty today. A newborn child, just because she happens to be born female, is more likely to grow up to be poor as an adult. The common perception that homelessness is an issue that only affects men ignores the growing percentage of women that are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. An experience of homelessness or housing instability can include being one pay cheque away from losing a home, finding shelter on a friend’s couch, accessing emergency shelter or transitional housing, or living on the streets.
Women’s homelessness is often hidden. A woman may be temporarily staying with friends or family or living in a household where she is subject to family violence. Hidden homelessness also includes situations where women pay most of their income for housing and cannot afford the other necessities of life, such as food. Women at risk of eviction or living in illegal, overcrowded or unsafe buildings are also part of the hidden homeless. Often a woman has very few choices when looking to access safe, appropriate and affordable housing. Various economic, political and social issues further hamper a single woman’s hope of finding housing:
Senior women: 41.5% of single, widowed or divorced women over 65 are poor. The poverty rate for all senior women is 19.3%, while that for senior men is 9.5%.
Single women: 35% of single women that are on their own and under 65 live in poverty.
Women with disabilities: more women than men live with disabilities in Canada. Those aged 35-54 have an income of $17,000, 55% of what men with disabilities earn. Women with disabilities, under 35 years of age, have an average income of $13,000. Women with disabilities over the age of 55 have an average income of under $14,000. The more severe a woman’s disability the lower her income.
Aboriginal women: the average annual income of aboriginal women is $13,300, compared to $18,200 for aboriginal men, and $19,350 for non-aboriginal women. 44% of the aboriginal population living off reserve lives in poverty, but things are worse on reserve. 47% of aboriginal persons on reserve have an income of less than $10,000. Aboriginal women are more likely than aboriginal men to be trapped in low-paying jobs and face insecurities related to housing, access to services and abuse both on and off reserve.
Women of colour: 37% of women of colour are low income, compared with 19% of all women. The average annual income for a woman of colour in Canada is $16,621, almost $3000 less than the average for other women ($19,495) and almost $7,000 less than that of men of colour ($23,635). Women of colour are also over represented in precarious (part-time and temporary) work and often have to live in substandard, segregated housing. They are also more vulnerable to violence and other health risks.
Immigrant women: new immigrant women between the ages of 25-44 who have a university degree and who worked full-year, full-time earn $14,000 less than Canadian-born women. This is partly because of overt racism, but also the structural racism of lack of recognition of foreign credentials and experience. New immigrant women, suffering from abuse, may have few options to escape this, if they are financially dependent on their male relative sponsors in Canada.
Migrant women: migrant women who are often refugees or foreign domestic workers are also particularly at risk of poverty and exploitation, as they are often forced to work in unregulated or hidden employment. Women make up the majority of migrant workers from Asia and many work here to sustain their families back home. They are paid low wages, and despite the fact that they contribute significantly to the Canadian economy, they are not entitled to many benefits such as employment insurance.
Low wage earners: in Canada it is not enough to have a job to keep you out of poverty. Most poor people do work full- or part-time. Women and youth account for 83% of Canada’s minimum wage workers. 37% of lone mothers with paid employment must raise a family on less than $10 per hour.
Women on welfare, and their children: 60% of single mothers rely on welfare at some point. 52% of Canada’s social assistance recipients are made up of families with children. 24% of welfare families are headed by people with some form of disability. All welfare rates in Canada are far below the poverty line, ranging from 20% to 76% below.
*Statistics are from the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women’s 2005 Fact Sheet CRIAW Fact Sheet