This week we mark the 20th report card from Campaign 2000, a cross-Canada, non-partisan coalition raising awareness about child and family poverty and promoting policies to implement the unanimous 1989 House of Commons’ resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. In 1992, the first report card was something new – a citizen’s monitoring report on government action – or inaction – in Canada. Many of you may know who we are and what we do. For those who are less familiar, Campaign 2000 is a diverse network of 120 groups representing low-income people, those providing key services including affordable housing, health care, and child care. These are the faith communities and service organizations, social planning councils, food banks, social workers, teachers, school boards, unions, women’s groups and many more in every province.
I doubt that those energetic activists back in 1992 thought that a report card would still be needed after 20 years. As Campaign 2000 issues its 20th monitoring report on child and family poverty, we are struck by the lack of progress over two decades. With 639,000 children and their families living in low income, it’s no wonder that school drop-out rates persist and many young children enter the formal education system already somewhat behind in social and cognitive learning. The economy has more than doubled in size, yet the incomes of families in the lowest decile have virtually stagnated. The gap between rich and poor families has continued to widen, leaving average-income families also struggling to keep up. With considerable evidence from academic, community-based and government research, and from extensive testimony from people with lived experience of poverty, we probably know more about how to eradicate poverty in Canada than we did twenty years ago. Yet, structural barriers hinder significant progress on eradicating poverty.
With 639,000 children and their families living in low income, it’s no wonder that school drop-out rates persist and many young children enter the formal education system already somewhat behind in social and cognitive learning.
At the same time, the younger generation – children of the baby boomers – is struggling more than their parents. They carry a heavy debt burden if they have pursued postsecondary education and often put off establishing long-term relationships and family formation. Many young people are unemployed or underemployed.
Postsecondary education, which has always been seen as a pathway out of poverty and a means to prevent poverty, is a pre-requisite for 70% of newly listed jobs. This academic necessity comes with a large price tag, averaging $5,366 per year for a full-time undergraduate degree in Canada and resulting in more and more postsecondary graduates finding themselves deeper in debt on leaving college and university. Currently, over $13.5 billion is owed to the federal government in student loans – the overall student debt, however, is estimated to be much higher if we include provincial loans, private lines of credits, credit cards and personal loans.
Many low-income students find themselves struggling to make ends meet and must take multiple jobs while pursuing their studies. Postsecondary graduates who have to borrow are at a higher risk of falling into low income and poverty as they seek to meet their debt repayment commitments. A number of these students choose to pursue any employment opportunity on graduation for financial purposes – potentially forgoing good jobs that help them establish their careers.
Canada has the know-how and the resources to make real progress on eradicating poverty. To start, we need a federal action plan that involves the provinces, territories, Aboriginal governments, the community sector, the private sector and people living in poverty. Secured in legislation, such as Bill C-233, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada, a wise federal plan that will identify key roles for all of us and will recognize the particularities of how Quebec pursues social policy in the Canadian context.
Related Education Canada articles:
- Oh Canada! Too Many Children in Poverty for Too Long
- Which Way to the Good Life? The Social Policy Implications of Child and Family Well-Being