Child poverty remains a huge problem for Canada

In 1989 parliament unanimously passed a motion calling for the end of child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.  That led to the creation of Campaign 2000, a cross-Canada public education movement to build awareness and support for the parliamentary motion and efforts to achieve its goal.  One of the main focusses of Campaign 2000’s work is publishing research on the indicators of child poverty and developing public education resources.  Their report cards serve as a reminder to parliament of its stated commitment and help Canadians see where the challenges are greatest.

To this day, an unacceptably high percentage of Canadian children remain below the poverty line.  Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, 1.2 million Canadian children are growing up below the poverty line. That amounts to 17.4% of all children.  Among the Indigenous population the number balloons to a shockingly high 37.9%.  Predictably, and as Campaign 2000 puts it, “deplorably”,  children in marginalized families – Indigenous, racialized, recent immigrant, mother-led, or those affected by disability - live in poverty at a greater rate than any others. 

This year’s Campaign 2000 report took a riding-by-riding approach to inform parliamentarians of the specific challenges in the areas they represent. The report used a five level graph to illustrate poverty levels which ranged from a low average of 8.9% to high of 29.6%.  It revealed where the current levels are the worst and one big surprise was that 40% of children live in poverty in the riding of Toronto Centre.   However, despite any surprises, there were many predictable findings from what seem to be intractable problems. 

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing falls into the fourth highest quintile with a rate ranging from 18.7% – 22.7% of children living below the poverty line.  Parts of Canada at this rate share indicators such as correspondingly high rates of single parent families, lower rates of labour market participation, higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of renting rather than home ownership, and paying more than 30% of income on housing.   These indicators closely match the report’s findings about rural areas where four out of ten low-income Canadian children live.

You may recall that the government made specific campaign promises to lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.  They also said they would establish a dedicated poverty reduction strategy, but we are still waiting for these promises to be addressed.  Campaign 2000 points out that any solutions must involve all three levels of government along with Indigenous governments and participation from the private and non-profit sectors as well.  

We are told that we live in an era of unprecedented wealth, but it is clear the distribution of that is not flowing through all of society.  With rates of child poverty seemingly unmoved over decades something is wrong with any official efforts to address the problem.  The parliamentary motion to end child poverty by the year 2000 will mark its 30th anniversary next year.  Without child poverty becoming a pressing concern for the government, we may well be discussing it as it reaches 50 which would be a true shame.