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One in seven Canadians are living in poverty—and they’re likely to be racialized, Indigenous and new Canadians.
An estimated 4.9 million Canadians are living in poverty—that’s one in seven Canadians, but that number drastically changes depending on which Canadians you’re talking about. Here are three groups of Canadians that are disproportionately affected by poverty in Canada.
The legacy of colonialism and exploitation of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, including forced relocation and residential schools, has wreaked trauma and damage that has lasted several generations. The national rate of poverty amongst Indigenous people is 25.3 per cent, which works out to be one person in every four. Four out of every five reserves have incomes that fall below the poverty line. This is further exacerbated for people living in remote regions, such as Canada’s northern territories, where people are paying double for the same amount of food. In Nunavut, for example, residents spend $14,800 per year just on groceries, compared to the $7,300 the rest of Canada pays.
Newcomers to Canada
One in every three new Canadians are living in poverty. That’s 34.2 per cent. Newcomers (whether immigrants or refugees) also lose a significant part of their income and autonomy in the acculturation process. Many people find their education is not transferable in Canada and therefore must accept precarious employment and lower wages. Immigrants are also often overlooked by employers, and sometimes, often due to language barriers or isolation from the community, they often don’t know how to seek out or apply to social programs, which makes it hard to receive much-needed help.
Racialized Canadians are also more likely to be poorer than other Canadians. Due to the historical exploitation of racialized folks and the lack of representation in political spheres, the professional and social barriers that non-white Canadians face are under-addressed. Increasingly, racialized people are excluded from the job market, which makes it harder to escape poverty, writes Grace-Edward Galabuzi, a professor of politics at Ryerson University. This limits their housing options to neighbourhoods with deep poverty, and can reinforce poverty with welfare dependency and high school dropout rates.
Poverty means even more than just not having basic means
When people from marginalized groups are discriminated against in any way—like say, if they earn less than their non-marginalized counterparts—it also affects their whole life. “Any form of prejudice in one sector—whether it’s education, job search and employment, or housing—it affects all the other sectors. None of them are independent,” says David Hulchanski, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work.
The powerlessness that impoverished and racialized Canadians feel when it comes to their loss of voice and lack of empowerment, knowledge, and attention from politicians can be attributed to two words, as Hulchanski says: “white supremacy.” Marginalized communities often feel like they don’t have a voice because, in fact, they don’t. From the top positions in city councils, parliament, corporations, school boards, most positions of power are entirely occupied by white Canadians. Before addressing poverty, we need to acknowledge that systemic inequality needs more robust social services. It can be easy to wonder "why don't they just live like us," says Hulchanski, "instead of acknowledging this [poverty] is a systemic inequality problem that requires social services and taxes.”
From differential access to housing, education, and exclusion from the labour market, there are many different forms of inequality that have adverse effects on the life chances of marginalized Canadians. Until Canadians and their political representatives are able to address the reasons why racialized Canadians are disproportionately affected, we won’t be able to dismantle poverty in Canada.
Here’s what we can do
First and foremost, the most important thing anyone can do is vote. From federal level to mayoral races, it’s important to find out which candidates directly address racial discrimination. Elect officials who are not afraid to tackle racism. Support racialized people who run for office—they have lived experience which is invaluable when it comes to addressing systemic inequality. Find candidates who speak in more than one language, those who are unafraid of talking about issues that affect marginalized groups, like affordable housing or police brutality. In our day-to-day lives, we can get more involved in helping newcomers to Canada settle into their new homes. Take time to learn more from each other, and if a reserve welcomes visitors, contact the band office to see if they offer visits. Make friends with people who don’t look like you, whether it’s at work or outside, listen and get to know their life stories.
Stepping outside of your own bubble and understanding the reasons why certain groups of Canadians are more likely to be impoverished is the first step towards addressing the problem of poverty in Canada.