Low Household Income and Disability: Income Sources, Employment and Employment Discrimination


Following the 2006 Census, Statistics Canada used the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) to gather information about people with disabilities. Disability was defined as any long-term or recurring difficulty in activities related to hearing, seeing, communicating, mobility, agility, learning or similar activities or a condition or health problem that reduces the amount or kind of activity people can do at home, work, school or other activities such as transportation or leisure. Based on PALS, 16.5% of adults or almost 4.2 million Canadians have at least one disability.

Together, the Census and PALS provide information about people with disabilities who live on low incomes (people in households that spend after taxes 20% or more than the average on food, shelter and clothing). This is the after tax low-income cut-off (LICO) and is sometimes called the ‘poverty line’. It doesn’t include disability-related costs such as medication, services, or aids for mobility, communication or learning. In 2005 almost half a million (20.5%) working-age adults 15 to 64 years with disabilities lived on a low income. This fact sheet looks at the relationship between poverty, disability and income-related characteristics of Canadians with and without disabilities.

Income Sources

Working-age people with disabilities living on a low income receive 37.5% of their total household income from government transfers ($5,825, on average), while their counterparts without disabilities receive 14.4%, or an average of $3,084, from these sources.

Nearly half (48.2%) of people with disabilities living below the LICO received provincial social assistance in 2005 and more than one in five (22.3%) received the Canada / Quebec Pension Plan Disability benefit. PALS does not provide information about social assistance received by people without disabilities.

After the age of 65 the incomes of both people with and without disabilities who live below the LICO double, respectively, to $12,252 or 66% of household income and $11,999 or 68.5% of household income. Most of these funds come from Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan.

Labor Force Status

According to Statistics Canada people with disabilities are persistently less likely to be employed than people without disabilities; in 2006 51.3% of working-age people with disabilities were employed compared to 75.1% of people without disabilities. However, only half with disabilities who are outside of the labour force indicate that they are completely prevented from working due to their disability and many who feel completely prevented face social and economic barriers to employment aside from disability itself.

The low employment level of people with disabilities helps to account for the greater prevalence of poverty they experience. Yet even those with disabilities who are employed are more likely to have a low income than those without disabilities (11% vs. 7.3%). Furthermore, among people with disabilities who not working, the rate of low income is 1.5 times higher than for their counterparts who do not have disabilities.

According to PALS 33.4% of people with disabilities on low incomes had not worked within the 12 months before PALS was conducted and either worked before 2005 or had never worked. In comparison, this was the case for 23.7% of people without disabilities living in low-income households.

People with disabilities on low incomes were almost twice as likely to work part-time for most of the year (40 to 48 weeks) compared to those without disabilities on low incomes (27% and 14.9%, respectively).

Type of Workplace

The low-income rate for employed people with disabilities is low for the 32.4% who work for an employer operating at more than one location with more than 500 workers and the 32.1% who are unionized or are otherwise covered by a collective agreement.

These conditions appear ideal for increasing the likelihood of living above the LICO: for workers with disabilities whose workplaces meet these conditions the low-income rate is only 3.8%. However, these conditions only apply to only about one in five (18.4%) of employed people with disabilities.

Discriminatory Employment Practices

PALS asked respondents who had been active in the labor force at some point from 2001 through 2006 whether they had experienced employment discrimination because of disability in those years. Discrimination included any of being refused a job interview, a job or promotion, being given less responsibility than co-workers, being denied workplace accommodation or employment benefits, being paid less that other workers in comparable jobs and being exposed to other types of employment discrimination.

Those who reported experiencing such discrimination are about twice as likely to live on low-incomes as those who have not had such an experience – 22.4% vs. 12.7%.

This information was produced through the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ Disabling Poverty/Enabling Citizenship project, which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's (SSHRC) Community-University Research Alliances (CURA).