Over the last decade, income disparity among Hamiltonians is virtually unchanged, but this follows growth in disparity during the late 1990s. Child poverty rates are over 50% in several neighbourhoods. Overall poverty rates did not improve from 2002 to 2008, and remain highly variable by neighbourhood. The city’s social assistance caseloads are at a 10-year high, while emergency food bank use continues to be above pre-recession levels.
The disparity of incomes in Hamilton has changed very little in the last decade. In 2009, the poorest 20% of Hamiltonians had 5% of total income, as it was in 2001. The richest 20% had 41% of the total income in 2009, similar to 2001. National trends are similar, with the richest 20% of Canadians having 44% of the total income in 2009. Overall, the richest 20% have about eight times the income of the poorest 20%.
Another measure of income disparity is the Gini co-efficient. The Gini co-efficient is a number between 0 and 1, with 0 being perfect income equality (everyone has the same amount of income), and 1 being perfect income inequality (one person has all the money). As the Gini value increases, income disparity increases. The following chart displays the historical trends for all households in Canada and Ontario from 1976 – 2009 (Hamilton data is not available). These trends show relatively steady income inequality from 1976 to the early 1990’s, growth in inequality from the mid 1990’s to the early 2000’s, but then relatively steady inequality from the early 2000’s to 2009.
Children Living in Poverty
One measure of poverty is the before tax Low Income Measure, which looks at the number of people who are earning below 50% of the median income for households in Hamilton. For a family of four, the before tax LIM is $42,256, for a single person, it is $21,128.
In Hamilton in 2009, 26% of children lived in families that were below the Low Income Measure, just up from 25% in 2006, and above the 2009 provincial rate of 24%. Only one neighbourhood in Hamilton had a rate below 10%, while three neighbourhoods had rates of over 50%. Three out of the 22 neighbourhoods showed some improvement between 2006 and 2009: postal code areas L8G, L8P, and L8R.Recent immigrants, lone parent families, and Aboriginal people are more than twice as likely to experience poverty.
Ontario Works Caseload
The number of people on Ontario Works (Ontario’s social assistance program) has climbed by over 40% the last three years. In June 2011 there were 14,110 cases, the highest number since 2000. These cases represent over 30,000 people, 38% of whom are children. The total number of cases has risen from just under 10,000 in early 2008. The prevailing explanation for this increase is that many laid-off workers have exhausted their Employment Insurance benefits and have turned to Ontario Works for emergency support (see the Globe and Mail article: “Ontario seeks Ottawa’s help as welfare cases spike”).
In 2009, 19% of Hamiltonians were below the Low Income Measure, slightly higher than the rate of 18% in 2006, and similar to the 2009 provincial rate of 19%. The percentage varied widely by neighbourhood: from 6% in one neighbourhood to over 40% in two. Between 2006 and 2009, the percentage of people below the LIM increased in all Hamilton neighbourhoods.
The total number of people who used a foodbank in March 2013 was 17,069, down slightly from March 2012 when the total was 17,924. These totals are down slightly from the peak recession numbers of over 19,600 in March 2009, but still higher than pre-recession levels of 15,500 in early 2008.
Poverty Rates by Group
Recent immigrants (50.5%), single people (41.6%), Aboriginal people (39.1%), and female lone parents (39.4%) were more than twice as likely to experience poverty as measured by Statistics Canada Low Income Cut-Off. Seniors had the most improved rate from 2001 to 2006, dropping from 24.4% to 16.6% over that time.
 Custom Data Request. Statistics Canada. Small Area Administrative Data, Family Database.
 Statistics Canada, Custom Tabulation. CANSIM table 202-079.
 Custom Data Request. Statistics Canada Small Area Administrative Data, Family Database. Data provided by the Social Planning and Research Council.
 Social Planning and Research Council 2009.
 City of Hamilton. Community Wellness Indicators.
 As stated in the section above, for a family of four, the 2009 before tax LIM is $42,256, for a single person, it is $21,128.