Do We Have a Child Poverty Epidemic in Canada?

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
August 29, 2014
Categories: Ask the Hub

I’ve never really liked the term ‘child poverty’. In Canada, children are poor because their parents (or other caregivers) are poor. ‘Family poverty’ is a more realistic term, yet it’s not quite as appealing and doesn’t tug on the heartstrings as much as ‘child poverty’. But semantics of terminology aside, new research released this week provides a glimpse into the extent of this issue.

The Toronto Star reported:

  • “29 per cent of children — almost 149,000 — live in low income families.”
  • “Among Canada’s 13 major cities, Toronto is tied with Saint John, N.B., as having the highest child poverty rate.”
  • “Across Toronto, almost 40 per cent of the city’s 140 neighbourhoods have child poverty rates of 30 per cent or more.”
  • “Residents of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Latin American background are more likely to be living in poverty.”

The numbers are astounding. And yet, they’re not. We have heard this story before. We have heard this story from community after community after community. In Toronto alone, the map of child poverty is a very close reflection of the work David Hulchanski did about the Three Cities of Toronto.

So yes, poverty of all sorts is an epidemic in this country. Child poverty, family poverty, youth poverty, adult poverty….POVERTY is an epidemic.

As I wrote in an upcoming report on housing affordability the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) is releasing in several weeks, the social safety net, that Canada is so famous for, is failing. Families can’t afford housing, they can’t afford food, they can’t afford healthcare; they can’t afford so many of the basic necessities of life. It’s not a matter of a handful of people slipping through the cracks…there are big, Canadian-winter sized potholes sucking people in.

As the Star story shows, poverty is also very racialized in this country. Immigrants, refugees, racialized Canadians and indigenous families are earning less than Caucasian families. This is not a new phenomenon either. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

In 1989, the federal government pledged to end child poverty by 2000. Nearly 25 years later the number of children living in poverty has increased. A full generation has gone by and children and their families are getting poorer. How many more children will continue to be forced to live without sufficient resources for survival before the problem is addressed? For more on this issue, see the now fully ironically named, Campaign 2000.

Poverty can be solved. Increasing minimum wage across the country is an important first step, as is raising the social assistance rates. Ensuring that there is enough affordable housing is also crucial.

For more information on affordable housing watch for the COH’s upcoming reports this fall. You can also learn more about solving poverty from “I’m Still Hungry: Child and Family Poverty in Ontario".

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at and we will provide a research-based answer.

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia is a research coordinator for the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness based at York University. The COH works to mobilize research results so that they have a greater impact on the elimination of homelessness in Canada. Tanya is also a PhD candidate (ABD) in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University with a special interest in community resiliency and recovery after catastrophic disasters. From 2003 to 2010, Tanya taught a course on Homelessness in Canadian Society at Ryerson University. She is a co-founder of the Toronto Homeless Memorial's site at the Church of the Holy Trinity and served on the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee as well as numerous City of Toronto committees on homelessness.

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