To what extent might child poverty hamper our collective future?
This question is on my mind because earlier this month, the Conference Board of Canada put out a report card that gave Canada a very poor ranking on child poverty. With a “C” grade, we ranked 15th out of 17 peer countries. We fall well behind Nordic countries such as Denmark, Finland and Norway, which ranked best. The U.S. still has the highest child poverty rate of the 17 countries on the list, but that’s small consolation, as Canada’s child poverty rate has escalated since the mid-1990s.
The problem is getting worse, not better.
Poverty impacts all of us. If youth in particular don’t have the assets they need to succeed, society pays in myriad ways. Poverty contributes to health problems, which stretch our health-care system. The Conference Board report also noted that children living in poverty are at higher risk of developmental delays and behavior disorders. This is costly not only because of the supports required to contend with these challenges, but also because it compromises the workforce of tomorrow. Poverty represents lost potential.
The OECD has pointed out that failure to tackle poverty “will weigh heavily on countries’ capacity to sustain economic growth in the years to come.” If you imagine Calgary as a huge opportunity grid, then those who are not connected to the grid are not contributing to the grid — so we are all missing out. When all Calgarians are connected, our workforce and tax base are stronger. More people are investing in our economy. Our health, welfare and justice costs are lower.
Most importantly, our communities are healthier, happier and more prosperous.
Albertans get it! Days before the Conference Board issued its report, the Alberta government released the results of its consultations with Albertans on its Social Policy Framework. The province had asked Albertans about the social issues that matter to them. Reducing child poverty was the highest social policy priority for Albertans and they are eager to tackle this problem. Taking it on makes a big difference. As United Way noted in our report Toward Resiliency for Vulnerable Youth, if children and youth are supported in their early years, they are better able to transition into adulthood and invest in our collective future.
Calgary is an innovative city, and I think most of us realize that the more Calgarians we connect to the opportunity grid, the stronger the grid becomes. We can’t afford to have any part of our city left behind! It will take all of us working together to maximize the potential of our city and its citizens.
—Dr. Lucy Miller is President and CEO of United Way of Calgary and Area