Poverty in Kingston: A Snapshot

Poverty in Kingston: A Snapshot

By Dr. Margaret Little

Kingston is a small city of great disparity.   It has the distinctive trait of having the highest concentration of “eggheads” (people with doctoral degrees) and federal prisons in all of Canada.   It is also the urban centre for a region characterized by rural and Aboriginal poverty.   As a predominantly white community with a growing influx of immigrants and Aboriginal peoples, it also receives media attention for blatant racist incidents that occur all too frequently.

You have only to walk a few blocks in the downtown core to see examples of Kingston’s disparity.   On the South core of the city in Sydenham ward you find beautiful mansions and limestone heritage homes where those with the PhDs who teach at Kingston’s three post-secondary institutions (Queen’s, Royal Military College and St. Lawrence) tend to live.   But just a few  blocks away on the North side of Princess Street you can see a very different city, housing many low-income citizens.   Here is where low-income single-moms and their children as well as ex-convicts tend to congregate, living in the cheaper and dilapidated rental housing or subsidized housing units.   Here is also where you will find the majority of Kingston’s housing shelters for the city’s homeless, service agencies for welfare recipients, prisoners, immigrants and Aboriginal peoples.   And if you travel further North you will find Kingston’s food bank, inconveniently located off the bus line, and Rideau Heights, where you will find some of Kingston’s poorest living in substandard and over-crowded housing.  But if you travel back to the city’s core and head over the causeway you will reach the Canadian Forces Base Kingston where you will see poor military housing and another group of low-income Kingstonians.

And there are many signs that this disparity is increasing as impoverished members of neighbouring communities flock to Kingston seeking work and opportunity.   In the last 5 years Kingston’s Aboriginal community has grown by 63%. [1] This is partly a result of federal government cuts on reserves that have forced Aboriginal peoples to leave their homes and communities searching for work.  Kingston’s Aboriginal citizens often experience extreme poverty.  The median income for Aboriginal people in Kingston is $3,000 less than the median income for all Aboriginal peoples in the province and $10,000 less than the median income for non-Aboriginal citizens of Kingston. [2]

Simultaneously the visible minority population in Kingston has also grown.  In the last 5 years this population grew by 28%.   This group is predominantly first generation Canadians who are well educated with the majority holding college or university degrees.  Despite their advanced education, the median income for visible minorities is almost $10,000 lower than the median income for white Kingstonians.  And there is evidence that the income gap is increasing between white and visible minority Kingstonians. [3]

Another group that experiences more than its fair share of poverty is single mothers.  Approximately 1/3rd of all single mothers in the city are low- income. [4]

Many of these impoverished citizens of Kingston are part of the working poor, often juggling more than one job in order to try to pay the bills.   This group includes some members of the Canadian Forces.[5] Those with full-time minimum wage jobs live below the poverty line. [6] And there are also many who want full-time jobs but are forced to work part-time at minimum wage jobs with few if any benefits or possibilities for advancement.  Three-quarters of those who work at part-time jobs are women and the majority of them want full-time jobs but cannot find them. [7]

Other impoverished Kingstonians receive inadequate welfare benefits.  The welfare rates are woefully inadequate forcing welfare recipients to choose between feeding their children or paying the rent.[8] As well as inadequate rates, welfare recipients are forced to live a life of close surveillance by welfare administrators, neighbours, friends and families. [9]

Another group that is impoverished are Kingston’s prison inmates.   When they are released from prison they often have extreme difficulty finding a job.   And many of them will remain in poverty as part of the welfare or working poor once released because of few opportunities for them to learn skills that will lead to better paid employment.   It is important to note that most of the inmates were low-income prior to their time behind bars.   And many are Aboriginal or visible minority.  In other words, the Canadian criminal system disproportionately punishes the poor.  And recent federal legislation will result in harsher punishments and more imprisoned. [10]

This is but a quick snapshot of Kingston but it does highlight that this city is one of great and growing disparity.   And it is up to all of us to decide how we make it a more welcoming environment for all our citizens.


[1] Kingston Community Profile 2009: A Socio-Demographic Analysis of Kingston, Ontario, Canada,” Social Planning Council of Kingston and Area, May 2009, p. 3.

[2] Ibid., pp. 3-4.

[3] Ibid., pp. 4-5.

[4] Ibid., p. 13.

[5] Ibid., p. 16.

[6] By poverty line I mean the Low Income Cut-off Rate established by Statistics Canada and the most widely used measure of poverty in Canada.

[7] Leah F. Vosko, “‘No Jobs, Lots of Work’: The Rise of the Temporary Employment Relationship and the Emergence of Workfare-Driven Social Policy,” Temporary Work: the Gendered Rise of a Precarious Employment Relationship, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2000, pp. 230-250.

[8] Caulette McBride and Karen Thorpe, Can These People Afford to Eat Well? Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Health Unit, September 2005, pp. 1-14.

[9] Krystle Maki, “Guilty Until Proven Eligible: Welfare Surveillance of Single Mothers in Ontario,” Master’s Thesis, Sociology Department, Queen’s University, 2009.

[10] Dorothy Chunn and Shelley Gavigan, “From Welfare Fraud to Welfare as Fraud: The Criminalization of Poverty,” in Balfour and Comacks, eds., Criminalizing Women, pp. 217-232.

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