On the same day the province and city announced plans to build more affordable housing in Toronto, Statistics Canada’s release of the 2016 census Wednesday shows the state of poverty in our country isn’t improving. In fact, for some demographics, it’s getting worse.
According to the agency, 17 per cent of Canadian children live in poverty – that represents one quarter of the 4.8 million people living under low income conditions in 2015. Youth under the age of 18 had a higher low income rate – 13.4 per cent – compared to Canadian adults.
“I can’t say I’m surprised by the numbers, but I’m disappointed in them,” said Sean Meagher, executive director of Social Planning Toronto.
The data shows 14 per cent of Canadians live in low income households, and 1.2 million of them are children.
In the past decade, data shows there was a one per cent decrease in the number of children aged five or younger living in low income households in 2015, while youth in the older age group saw no changes.
Meagher said the slight decrease doesn’t mean there’s been an improvement, rather it could be a result of how data was collected for this most recent census.
“There’s been a change in methodology so we can’t really know precisely what the year-over-year switch has been in terms of child poverty,” Meagher said. “But we do know that one kid in four is far too many, and whether that fluctuated up or down one per cent, that doesn’t change the depth of the problem.”
Though the methodology has changed, Meagher said this year’s census is “the most accurate assessment we’ve had in a long time, not only taking people’s estimate, but they look at actual taxes and assessing those living in poverty.”
Ontario’s child low-income rate is 18.4 per cent, which is slightly higher than the national average. When looking at data for each metropolitan area in 2015, Windsor tops the list with 24 per cent for having the highest percentage of children living in low income conditions. In addition to Windsor, six other Ontario cities round up the top 10, including ninth-ranked Toronto.
“Toronto is still the child poverty capital of Canada. It’s a problem we should have solved decades ago and it persists in exactly the same scale that it’s been around for years and years,” Meagher said.
The impacts of living in these conditions create a domino effect, and solving youth poverty in Canada depends on how parents are treated. Meagher said food security, affordable housing and access to childcare are some of the key issues that need to be addressed in order to tackle child poverty rates.
“Fix the labour markets and fix access to childcare, if we want parents to prosper.”
On the other end of the demographic spectrum, the rate of low income seniors in Canada increased by 2.5 per cent in the last decade. Data shows 14.5 per cent of Canadians 65 years of age or older are low income, and while the increase was “particularly strong for senior men, overall, senior women were still more likely to be living in low income in 2015.”
Meagher said that number is slightly higher in Toronto, adding the city has a bigger poverty problem than any other place in Canada.
“It’s hard to know all the facts, there’s some income support that seniors get that aren’t available to everyone in Toronto,” he explained. “Very recent immigrants who are seniors, for example, don’t get the full range of seniors income support that people who’ve been living here longer do.”
Social Planning Toronto released a report earlier this summer on the aging baby boom demographic, revealing there’s been a “city-wide growth of 40 per cent of seniors aged 60-64 over the last 10 years, as well as a striking 53 per cent increase in those over 85 years old.” The Demographic Change in Toronto’s Neighbourhoods report also looked at how neighbourhoods in Toronto were evolving, and what impacts those changes have on city programs and services.
The group said Toronto didn’t have the infrastructure and services, like long-term care spaces and recreational programming in place to accommodate this growth.
“When we see the rate at which our senior population is growing, and we see the number of seniors who are living in poverty in Toronto, that number is devastating,” Meagher explained. “We don’t have anything like the infrastructure, support, and planning in place to manage that kind of challenge right now.”
Meagher said it’s vital for seniors to have housing, and remain in communities they are familiar with so they can maintain a connection to the people they’ve known and the services around them.
“We’re not building infrastructure to make that possible, we’re not creating mixed and affordable housing in neighbourhoods all across the city,” he said. “We’re not supporting seniors to age in a place, that’s going to be a bigger challenge.”
A spokesperson told CityNews that city staff will also be reviewing the census data and what the numbers say about the city.
“We are seeing at the regional level, a large number of people still experiencing low employment incomes, and a drop in overall median income since the 2006 census,” read a statement attributable to Harvey Low, Social Development, Finance and Administration with the City of Toronto. “This could be due to many people working in precarious or part time jobs, or multiple jobs. City staff are still going through that data to analyze it from a City of Toronto perspective.”