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Study: Chronic low income among immigrants in Canada

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Released: 2017-09-29

Low income rates are one metric that are often used to gauge the financial outcomes of immigrants in Canada. Concerns are frequently tied to the duration of time spent in low-income.

If low-income spells are short, family members may not experience the same negative effects as they can if spells are longer. It is important to know to what extent the low-income population is comprised of persons in chronic, or long-term, low income.

The study Chronic Low Income Among Immigrants in Canada and its Communities provides new evidence on the incidence of chronic low income among immigrants aged 25 or older during the 2000s as well as variations across 29 Canadian cities and regions. Chronic low income is defined as having a family income under a low-income cut-off for five or more consecutive years.

The study finds that the share of immigrants in chronic low-income increased from 15.8% in 2000 to 16.3% in 2004, but then declined to 12.3% by 2012. Among the comparison group, which is comprised primarily of persons born in Canada, the share in chronic low-income declined from 6.1% in 2000 to 3.7% in 2012.

About one-half of all immigrants who were below the low-income cut-off in 2012 had been so for five years or more, compared to 43% among persons born in Canada. These shares were quite stable over the 2000s.

The decline in the incidence of chronic low-income through the 2000s was most evident among more recent immigrants—those in Canada for 5 to 10 years. Among this group, the incidence of chronic low-income declined from 19.5% in 2000 to 13.3% in 2012. In contrast, the incidence of chronic low-income among more well-established immigrants—those in Canada for 16 to 20 years—increased from 10.4% to 11.5% over this period. Overall, the difference in the incidence of chronic low-income that existed between more recent and more well-established immigrants in the early 2000s had largely disappeared by 2012.

Immigrants over the age of 65 had the highest rates of chronic low income in 2012, at around 30%. This was approximately three times higher than the rate among immigrants aged 25 to 54.

In 2012, the incidence of chronic low-income among immigrants also varied across family status, ranging from 25% among unattached individuals and 20% among lone parent families, to 9% among couples with children. Across immigrant admission classes, the incidence of chronic low income was highest among the refugee and family class, at 15%, and lowest among economic class immigrants who entered as provincial nominees, at 6%.

The incidence of chronic low-income among immigrants varied significantly across the 29 cities/regions in the study. A large part of this variation was attributable to differences in the background characteristics of immigrants in different regions, such as educational attainment, knowledge of official languages, and category of admission. Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver were among the cities/regions with the highest rates of chronic low-income among immigrants in both 2000 and 2012, although the rate declined most in Montréal over this period. Cities/regions in the Prairie Provinces were also among those that saw the largest declines in the chronic low-income rate among immigrants.

This study will be updated using 2016 Census data on immigration that will be released on October 25, 2017, as well as administrative data for more recent years.

  Note to readers

The focus of this analysis is on landed immigrants who were in Canada for 5 to 20 years and who were over the age of 25 during the 2000s. Chronic low income is defined as having a family income under the low-income measure (LIM) for five consecutive years or more. The low-income measure at the Canada level is one-half the median income. The LIM is held constant over all years. Income is in constant dollars, adjusted to account for inflation. Family income is adjusted to account for differences in family size. For each of the 29 cities/regions in the study, the LIM is the national level LIM multiplied by an adjustment factor to account for differences in the cost of living among cities/regions. The adjustment factor is the city/region Market Basket Measure (MBM) divided by the National level MBM.


The research paper "Chronic Low Income Among Immigrants in Canada and its Communities," part of the Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series (Catalogue number11F0019M), is now available.

Contact information

For more information contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300;

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Yuqian Lu (613-614-3710, Social Analysis and Modelling Division.

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