Plight of Immigrants: The Spatial Concentration of Poverty in Canada

Article excerpt

This study was made possible through a research grant provided by Prairie Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Integration for which the authors are grateful. The authors would also like to thank the valuable comments on the first draft of this paper made by the anonymous reviewer(s).

A. Kazemipur and S.S. Halli

Prairie Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration

and Integration (PCERII),

Department of Sociology, University of Manitoba

Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2

The radical changes of Canada's immigration law in late 1960s made Asia, Africa, and Latin America the leading sources of Canada's immigrant population. While for the previously dominated European newcomers, immigration meant a window to better and more satisfying living conditions, the Third World immigrants, in most cases, were escaping from extreme poverty and misery to normal lives. For many of them, immigration was a matter of life and death, rather than `life' and `better life'.

The Third World immigrants to Canada, however, were not as lucky as their predecessors. They had major difficulties integrating into Canadian societies, both culturally and economically. The cultural differences, along with discriminatory views and actions pushed many of them towards the margins of Canadian society. The timing of their arrival further aggravated their unfortunate situation. The decade of the 70s, when they began to come to Canada in large numbers, was exactly the time that the fast economic growth and the accompanying expanding job opportunities as well as welfare privileges began to slow down and shrink. One inevitable consequence of these developments was that the competition over scarce and shrinking resources intensified. As it is normal in such conditions, those unprivileged are the ones likely to suffer the most. In this particular situation, one thing was beyond any doubt: the immigrants were not the privileged ones.

The recent rise of poverty in Canada during the '90s raised the possibility that immigrant, and especially those of certain ethnic origins, may disproportionally fall victim to poverty. Such a concern was not unique to immigrants. It was raised with regard many other segments of the population, as the most vulnerable groups in face of poverty, that is, young adults, women, female single parents, children, disabled and elderly (McFate et al. 1995; Duff and Mandell 1996; Duffy and Pupo 1992; Chekki 1995; Canadian Institute of Child Health 1994). However, surprisingly enough, no serious attempt was made to address the poverty of immigrants, and especially those with certain ethnic characteristics. What further complicates the issue in the case of immigrants is the fact that the rising national poverty rates may compound with some ethnic features of immigrants and create quite complicated, intractable, and unique situations. The study of `spatial concentration of poverty' (SCOP) in Canadian cities reveals that this, indeed, has been the case.

The `spatial concentration of poverty' is defined rather differently from the conventional poverty. The latter refers to an individual or a family that cannot afford the basic necessities of life, or the one that spends more than a certain proportion of its income on such necessities; the former looks at the poverty of neighborhood. According to Wilson (1987), a poor neighborhood is the one with more than 20% of its population being poor. The neighborhood poverty rate has the same conceptual properties as the national poverty rate. The national poverty rate expresses the number of poor individuals and/or families as a proportion of the country's total population. The neighborhood poverty rate provides the same information, but with regard to a neighborhood. The national rate allows for international comparisons, and the neighborhood rate facilitates the interneighborhood comparisons. …