In one of the world’s richest countries, Canada, poverty remains a fact of life for millions of Canadians. According to Canada Without Poverty, a non-profit organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty in Canada, nearly five million Canadians currently live in poverty.1 That is approximately 5 million Canadians that struggle daily to meet their basic needs, such as adequate nutrition, housing, a visit to the dentist, and public transportation. Marginalized groups, such as persons living with disabilities, single mothers, the elderly, youth, and racialized communities remain over-represented in poverty.
In my previous article, defining ‘youth,’ I covered the complexities of defining youth and some useful criteria we can use to define youth and properly discuss issues of young people face in our society.
But, how do we define poverty?
Defining poverty is critical to adequately measure the various consequences of poverty and the extent to which it impacts the daily lives of those affected by it. However, Canada has no official government mandated definition of poverty, which has made it difficult to identify the issue and create effective solutions. There are, however, three generally recognized measures of poverty that we can look at.
- The Low Income Cut-offs (LICO) is one of the most widely used low-income and poverty measurement tool. In more simplistic terms, LICO is a relative measure of low income where after-tax household income is less than half of the median household income, or below $22,133 for a single-person household, or $44,266 for a four-person household. 4 A family that falls below the LICO will devote a larger share of its income on the necessities of food, shelter, and clothing than the average family.
- Another measurement looks at poverty beyond that of the socioeconomic status of individuals and accounts for their sociopolitical experience. Poverty, here, is identified as a state of being and a form of identity. Class is a social relation and as such, it is “directly associated with economic, social and political power, and is evident in how laws are framed, institutions are organized and societal resources are distributed.”3
- Finally, the gap between the living standards of Canadians belonging to different socioeconomic class can be used to define poverty.
As I have mentioned in my previous post, poverty cannot be reduced to individuals’ socioeconomic status, but rather it is also implicated and informed by the power dynamics of gender, race, ethnicity, class, status, and so on. Because poor people often have very limited economic, social and political power, they are excluded from gaining access to societal resources that are critical to conquering their deprived existence.
In spite of that, the poverty discourse tends to relegate poor people to an inferior status by equating their socioeconomic position with personal/individual responsibility. Within such discourse, the poor is conceptualized as a failed member of society that threatens the security of the social body. Such discourse fails to account for systemic processes and structural constraints, such as racism, social isolation, violence, and stigma, that are not only the lived realities for those impacted by poverty but cause their marginalized socioeconomic position within the larger society.
Youth Poverty: A Canadian perspective
According to census Canada 2015, 1.2 million Canadian children live in poverty. 4 Canadian youth are amongst one of the highly represented groups in poverty with approximately 17% of the population living in poverty.
In 2015, Ontario implemented its second Poverty Reduction Strategy with a commitment to reduce child poverty, eliminate chronic homelessness, and invest in employment and income security strategies to negate the impact poverty is having on children, and families across the nation.
Despite such efforts from the government to alleviate child poverty in the nation, the issue remains persistent as more and more Canadian youth are disfranchised, alienated and left vulnerable to the cruel disadvantage poverty imposes on their lives.
A substantial number of works of literature have identified the negative association between poverty and psychosocial development in youth. Research across multitudes of discipline have identified poverty’s effects on educational achievement, school dropout rates, deviant behavior, social exclusion, poorer physical health, and social mobility for youth.
Poverty puts children at a tremendous disadvantage of chronically stressful, ongoing life conditions such as inadequate housing and dangerous neighborhoods that markedly increase the difficulties of day-to-day existence. Young Canadians living in poverty remain the most susceptible group to increased risks for impaired neural development, psychiatric disorders, poorer school performance, inadequate nutrition and poor mental health, such as anxiety and emotional distress caused by their impoverished existence.5
As such, children and youth who live in poverty are deprived of many opportunities for optimal growth and development. Youth living in urban communities face the most debilitating effects of poverty, especially on their educational achievement and exposure to crime. Most importantly, and paradoxically, poverty costs Canada billions of dollars annually to navigate the effects of economic disadvantage and the social pathologies that poverty creates, including health, unemployment, and crime.
- Growing up in poverty is a risk factor for later life outcomes.
- Poverty is not just a material condition affecting aspects such as food security and housing but it is also detrimental to the physical, mental, cognitive and social development of children and youth.
- Poverty, given its powerful effect on the lives of Canadian children and their future, merits serious attention.
- Government of Canada.“Youth in Canada Today.” http://www.horizons.gc.ca/en/content/youth-canada-today
- White, Rob, and Chris Cunneen. 2015. “Social class, youth crime and youth justice.”
- Census Canada. 2016.“Census in Brief: Children living in low‑income households.” http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016012/98-200-x2016012-eng.cfm
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. 2008. “Reducing Poor Health Outcomes for Children and Youth: Recommendations for the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy.” http://www.cheo.on.ca/uploads/AboutUs/Files/poverty_submission_e.pdf