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By BERNIE BELLAN I don’t know about you, but when I see something - whether it’s in a newspaper or magazine article or perhaps in an e-mail,  that purports to make a claim that seems to defy logic, I don’t immediately run a Google check to see whether there’s anything to that claim. Instead, my usual reaction is: “Wow! I sure didn’t think that was the case.”

So, when I read something in Jewish Federation CEO Adam Bronstone’s most recent message to the community - which I suppose is sent out to thousands of e-mail recipients, I thought something was awry, but I postponed looking into it until about a week after I had read it. Here’s what Adam wrote: ‘Recent statistics show that 20% of our community is living in poverty; this shocking reality shows that we are truly living in a “Now More Than Ever” state of existence.’
I assume that, by “community”, Adam was referring to the “Jewish” community; thus the reference to “Now More Than Ever”, which was one of the tag lines that our Jewish Federation used to use to promote giving.
Now I know that when it comes to rates of poverty the usual stereotype of the Jewish community is that we’re a wealthy community and that, if there are pockets of poverty, they are isolated pockets.
So, that figure of “20%” seemed awfully high to me. As a result I sent an e-mail to Adam Bronstone asking him how he had arrived at that figure. I added that I had been thinking about poverty in the community for quite some time, especially among single seniors, and that I had asked one of our writers (Rebeca Kuropatwa) to look into the specific issue of seniors’ housing within the Jewish community. While there has been a burgeoning growth in upscale housing for seniors in Winnipeg, I often wonder where that leaves seniors who cannot afford to move into one of the new assisted living facilities that have cropped up in recent years.
In any event, Adam further respond that Faye Rosenberg-Cohen, Planning Director for the Federation, has been working on the issue and, once we hear from Faye we hope to have quite a bit more on this very important subject.
But - I’d still like to know where that “20%” figure comes from. There is no one agreed-upon definition of poverty in Canada. In a CBC TV report on the issue, it was reported that ‘There is no official measure of poverty in Canada. Statistics Canada reports  that 14.9 per cent of Canadians have “low income” (i.e. make less than half the median income) but declines to label that group “poor.” ‘
Unfortunately, the 2011 National Household Survey didn’t quantify the proportion of Canadians living below the “poverty level” the way previous censuses had. In 2011 I reported on a panel discussion in which Professor Sid Frankel of the University of Manitoba School of Social Work gave some very interesting statistics about rates of poverty within Winnipeg’s Jewish community, based upon earlier censuses. Here, again, are those statistics:

2005 cut-off levels for defining who is “low income” in cities of 500,000 population or more
   Family size        Cut-off income level
1            $20,775
2              25,867
3              31,801
4              38,610
5              43,791
6              49,839
7 or more   54,987

Using the above figures as parameters, Frankel offered the following tables for measuring Jewish poverty:

Prevalence of low income in Winnipeg - economic families
Jewish        All  ethnic groups
6.7%        14.6%
8.0%        not measured

Prevalence of low income in Winnipeg - single persons
        Jewish         All ethnic groups
2005        32.9%            41.7%
2000        36.6%            not measured

Prevalence of low income in all of Canada –
Jewish economic families
        Winnipeg        All of Canada
2005        6.7%            11.5%
2000        8.0%            9.7%

Prevalence of low income in all of Canada – Jewish single persons
        Winnipeg        All of Canada
2005        32.9%            36.9%
2000        36.6%            35.1%

Prevalence of low income in all of Canada – Jewish single persons 65+
        Winnipeg        All of Canada
2005        32.0%            35.2%
2000        33.0%            40.1%

Now, while it’s difficult to know whether there has been a huge jump in the number of Winnipeg Jews living below the poverty line between 2006-2011 it would be pretty hard to imagine that the figure could have gone up from 6.7%, which is what it was in 2006, to 20% in 2011 - or whatever year it is which Adam Bronstone may have been using as his baseline. Without being too critical of Adam - he’s an awfully smart guy, I don’t know how many others may have done a double take when they read his message of March 8, but I sure did. It is useful though, isn’t it, when you’re trying to convince people to make a contribution to the Combined Jewish Appeal, to use a figure for the rate of poverty in our community that should make most of us quite concerned - if we’re paying attention to what he wrote?

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