Wolfville’s black eye

We thought we were the only ones giving Wolfville a black eye but it appears we have competition. Dick Groot The Community Foundation’s Vital Signs Report is doing a pretty good job too, aided and abetted by the Town [taxpayers, to the tune of at least  $5000 ] and the WBDC [which gave at least another $5000] and the media.

The CH headline says Wolfville poverty rates high

How many will read the mayor’s disclaimer that the stats don’t just come from the Town of Wolfville but also from the surrounding area.

We were very puzzled by the figures as they were presented in the media so we wrote a letter to Mr Groot some days ago following the Advertiser and CBC radio reports. We copy it here:

Dear Mr. Groot,
I am puzzled by some figures I saw in the paper some days ago ( Advertiser  Oct. 6 pg 7 Vitality Report, Wolfville by the Numbers.) It says:
For the 440 children under age of 14 living in Wolfville, the child poverty rate was about 25% higher than the provincial average.

There was also a reference to this figure on CBC radio this morning. For the benefit of our readers could you tell us where these statistics come from?
In the Vital Signs 2009 sheets handed out at the ATF which we have been given there is no child poverty figure that we could find. There is – on the Economy sheet- a figure for over all poverty which indicates (with figures from Stats Can based on the LIM) that in 2006 the overall poverty rate was 26.4% DOWN from 27.6% in 2000 which for that year was only 3% higher than the provincial average and 5% more than the national average.
Over all poverty (based on income) is a very poor gauge of “child poverty” so I  agree we can’t use those figures. In essence every child is poor, as they are dependent on their parents for their needs. A low income family could give their children everything they need and those children might be better off than a relatively well to do parent who gives their children nothing and spends the money on themselves, gambling for example. But I also find the figure of 25% higher than the provincial average – as mentioned in the article and on the radio this morning- hard to believe.

Perhaps you can let us know where you got the figures quoted so we don’t comment in ignorance.

Perhaps you could also enlighten us as to what “access’ means to a food bank. Is access one person or a family? Are all “accesses” equal to each other in amounts distributed? ie. Are the numbers in the family counted? Is there a constant “amount” of food given out in any one “access” ?  If the units aren’t consistent one cannot accurately compare “accesses” per year in any meaningful way I think you must agree. This does not mean of course that you are wrong , only that you cannot use those figures to support your assertion.

We would appreciate your clarification on these points. The Wolfville Vital Signs report is not available on the website which would also be useful.

We were very happy that at the breakfast the other day you said that the Community Fund is accountable to us, the community of Wolfville. Accountability is an important value which we appreciate.

We have as yet had no reply. But the report HAS, as of today, appeared on the Community Foundation website. First regarding sources:

The Community Foundations of Canada and the Centre for the Study of Living Standards supplied us with data from Statistics Canada and other national sources. However, as Wolfville has such a small population, data for the Town was not always available and we had to find other sources of information. For instance, local economic data tends to be collected on the basis of the Annapolis Valley Economic Region. This contains about 124,500 people and Wolfville represents only about 3% of that total. In addition, Wolfville has several economic characteristics that set it apart from the rest of the Valley which means that we could not reduce the data from the Valley to Wolfville on the basis of population alone. Similarly, health-related data is recorded on the basis of health regions and districts. So, for several indicators, we provide the Valley numbers, which give some indication, but do not directly reflect Wolfville. Hence the report has many strengths, but also some methodological weaknesses.

Methodological weaknesses. That is quite an admission.

Regarding poverty the report states that:

In 2006, the overall poverty rate in Wolfville, based on the LIM (Low Income Measure)5, was 26.4%, down from 27.6% in 2000. However, the 2006 figure was higher than the provincial average (23.3%) and higher than the national average (21.3%).
Source: Statistics Canada, Small area administrative data

Emphasis ours. Note that the rate is down [the media didn’t mention that did they?]  and although it says “in Wolfville” the figures are from area data.

Poverty rate for persons aged 65 and over
In 2006, the pre-tax poverty rate in Wolfville (based on the LIM)5 for persons aged 65 and over was 14.1%. This is the lowest the rate has been since 2000 (it peaked at 16.5% in 2004). Wolfville’s rate is lower than the provincial rate (15.6%) but higher than the national rate (13.5%).
Source: Statistics Canada. Small Area Administrative Data

Emphasis ours. Note that the rate is down [unmentioned in the media] and again although it says it is Wolfville’s rate the source is area data.

Child poverty rate
In 2005, the child (18 years and under) pre-tax poverty rate in Wolfville (based on the Low Income Cut Off)6 was 20.7%. This is approximately 25% higher than the provincial rate (16.6%) and approximately 17% higher than the national (17.7%) rate for 2005.
Source: Statistics Canada, Census 2006

Emphasis ours. 

When you look at the after tax numbers for low income ( i.e compared to people who have paid TAXES!) you can see that the numbers are not as high.

Census Wolfville&NS income

We wonder why they chose to use the before tax figures. And we note that the figures for % in low income after tax- for persons less than 18 years of age – in this chart is 10%, lower than the provincial figure of 11.5. Females seem to fare well. The % for them is 0.

We guess they used a different set of figures, huh?

We notice in the Stats Can notes:

Since its initial publication, Statistics Canada has clearly and consistently emphasized that the LICOs [Low Income Cut Offs]are not measures of poverty. Rather, LICOs reflect a consistent and well-defined methodology that identifies those who are substantially worse-off than average. …Users are advised to interpret prevalence of low income rates based upon small counts with caution.

Aren’t statistics fun? You can use them to any purpose as we all know. So what is the purpose of this exercise?

Mr. Groot said:

…the information in the report is needed to determine where funding should be directed.

Mayor Stead said:

It’s a set of signals for us to try to determine whether there are ways we can do better for certain segments of the population, particularly around issues of need, like employment, food bank use, capacity to live here and pay taxes,

We say: Redistribution of income ahead? Will the 3% that Wolfville represents take responsibility for the financial welfare of the Annapolis Valley Economic Region? Or will we leave that to the Provincial powers that be?


One response to “Wolfville’s black eye

  1. The report seems to suggest that Wolfville is a basket-case. How can all this be? Wolfville is regularly reported as being at the forefront of innovations such as: Fair Trade, Sustainability, Farm Markets, Slow Food, and all manner of bylaws that proscribe undesirable lifestyle. Could it be that municipal policy has been too focused on a world that resides only in the minds of a few whilst ignoring inconvenient empirical reality?

    One sector of the Wolfville economy has thrived under the leadership of Mayor Stead. In the period 2002 to 2006, municipal taxation increased by 22 percent. In 2007, Mayor Stead lead a municipal charge to grab another 13 percent but he backed off a percent or two when taxpayers took an apoplectic turn. Mayor Stead has thrown enough of our money at his failed experiments in social engineering and alternative economics.

    Frankly, I think The Wolfville Community Fund has got it totally wrong. It’s just that we’re presently a little handicapped by bad municipal leadership and some dubious statistical analyses.