NWT Bureau of Stats consults public on poverty measure

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Poverty in the territory will be getting a new set of eyes on it over the next year. On Jan. 23 the Northwest Territories Bureau of Statistics gave a presentation and gathered feedback with local NGO – Alternatives North – detailing how poverty is assessed in the territory and announced that a federal poverty assessment is on it’s way.

3001NWTstats11.jpg Economic statistician with the NWT Bureau of Statistics, Jeff Barichello, explains the various adjustments that are made for various family types when using the market basket measure (MBM) to asses if an individual family is in poverty. Jan. 23 2019 Brett McGarry/NNSL Photo
Economic statistician with the NWT Bureau of Statistics, Jeff Barichello, explains the various adjustments that are made for various family types when using the market basket measure (MBM) to assess if an individual family is in poverty.
Brett McGarry/NNSL Photo

“The (federal) government has started taking an income survey of Northern communities and that information should be compiled by around July 2020,” Jeff Barichello, an economic statistician with the NWT Bureau of Stats said.

“They will be doing a random sample for this survey in communities across all territories.”

As it stands now, the federal government has no measure of poverty in any of the territories and no national poverty line. Academics and NGOs in the territories have relied on territorial institutions like the NWT Bureau of Stats to provide information on Northern poverty rates.

The main tool used to asses poverty in the North is the uses of the market basket measure (MBM). The MBM calculates the cost of basic goods for a family of four to live a modest life in the territory. This MBM is then compared with household income, while adjustments are made for households less than four and other variables like mortgages. The MBM is split into several categories that include transportation, shelter, food and clothing.

“Initially the Northern MBM was based off of the Manitoba MBM, but we’ve found there a great differences in the costs and what people actually need North of 60,” said Barichello.

Barichello has been using the MBM for several years and constantly gathers input on how it could be adjusted appropriately for Northern communities.

“There need to be appropriate and intelligent adjustments for the North,” Suzette Montreuil, a member of Alternatives North said. “Someone may look at a map and see Nunavut and Inuvik are roughly in the same region so the MBM would be the same but it’s not. There can be many differences in how people live.”

Currently the NWT Buearu of Stats publishes the MBM for six communities in the territory: Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, Norman Wells and Yellowknife. For example, to live a modest life for a year in Yellowknife, a family would need $59,304 according to the MBM.

Aggie Brockman, member of Alternatives North who help consult the federal government on the MBM last Novemebr, says it will eventually be vitally important to convey this information effectively to those who are actually in poverty.

“We need to find a way to make the measure transparent and then find a way to explain it to people,” said Brockman. “The people who are most impacted by it should understand it and they are the ones who probably have the least amount of time to scratch their heads and try and figure out something complex.”

As of August of 2018, the federal government announced Canada’s first poverty reduction strategy and will be using the MBM to assess rates of poverty across the nation.

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