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Social Issues
New Report Says Canada Falling Behind On Poverty & Inequality; “Not Living Up To Its Potential Or Re
February 4, 2013
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As a country, we like to think of Canada as a place of prosperity, opportunity, and equality - a kinder, compassionate nation.

But as the old saying goes, talk is cheap. The real question is: are we actually living up to the values we stand for.

Well, not so much - according to the Conference Board of Canada's latest 'Society Report Card'.

The report says Canada is "not living up to its reputation or its potential" - ranking 7th out of 17 major developed countries.

Overall, Canada received a 'B', which doesn't sound so bad.

But in some key areas, our country scored well below average - areas such as child poverty, working age poverty, income inequality, and the gender income gap.

"(The B is) a good grade, there's no disputing that, but what's a bit worrisome is the high rates of, in particular, child poverty and working-age poverty," said Brenda Lafleur, director at the Conference Board of Canada.

"I think for a country that's of the economic calibre that Canada is, it's a bit worrisome."

Take income inequality, for example. Canada scored a 'C' on both income inequality and the gender income gap.

Increasingly, the report says, more and more of the country's wealth is ending up in fewer and fewer hands. And the statistics seem to back that up.

Over the past 30 years, the top 10 per cent have seen their average income rise 34 per cent.

By comparison, the bottom 10 per cent have seen their earnings rise just 11 per cent.

Lafleur says the middle-class is having a tougher and tougher time keeping up with the costs of living.

"If you asked the average Canadian out there, they wouldn't be totally surprised by that. I think they feel it in their pay cheques," she said.

As well, women are often paid less than men for the same work. Lafleur says that kind of inequality isn't just a question of what's fair. It's bigger than that.

"When income inequality gets to too high of a rate, or even if it's growing, it has a negative impact on the economy," she told the Huffington Post.

"If people feel the investments that they put into themselves - like to go to school, to work hard etcetera - are not going to pay off, that they're not going to catch up, it has a negative impact on people and the choices that they make in life."


Canada also scored poorly with respect to poverty, with our rate among the worst of the 17 countries in the report.

For child poverty, Canada scored a 'C'. For working age poverty, we received a 'D'.

As it stands, Canada's child poverty rate is 15.1 per cent. That's up from 12.8 per cent in the mid-1990s.

The report says that is "unacceptable," and says action needs to be taken.

"Poor children do not eat well, do not learn well and have low chances of escaping poverty when they grow up," Lafleur said.

Right now, one in six children in Canada are living in poverty, while one in ten adults has fallen below the poverty line.

However, Lafleur says both of those problems can be fixed.

"If we want to address a problem like child poverty or working-age poverty, we know we can do it - we just have to work together and actually decide that it is a problem."

She points out that 30 years ago, the poverty rate for elderly people was 30 per cent. Now, it's five per cent.

Lafleur suggests that Canada's self-image is "based largely on a narrow Canada-U.S. comparison."

Trouble is, the U.S. ranked dead last among the 17 countries.

Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Austria were the top countries - all receiving an overall grade of 'A'.

Canada did score well in some areas, such as serious crime. We have lower murder and robbery rates than most of the other 17 countries.

The country also scored high on tolerance of diversity and life satisfaction. Canada also received an 'A' for income mobility.

But Lafleur said there are signs that in the coming years, children will be less likely to make more money than their parents.

The report also noted that the situation could be even worse, without the work of the federal government.

For example, because of our tax system and transfers to the poor, income inequality is 27 per cent lower than it would be.

And without government benefits and taxes, poverty rates would be 23 per cent, compared to 12 per cent right now.

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