Last States. My position as a student

Last week’s lecture presented the idea of poverty in Canada and the United States. My position as a student studying Social Exclusion makes this a very important topic for me. In the reading “Poverty in Canada and the United States; measurement, trends, and implications”, it looks at how to properly measure poverty. The fact is poverty in Canada has been on the up rise while in the United States it has been falling in recent years. The most obvious question being asked is; Given that Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, how do we still have poverty rising and what does it mean for future generations.

I believe it would beneficial to first answer what is meant by “poverty”. In the reading, poverty is defined as “want of the necessities of life”1. The author goes on to link to this definition to Adam Smith’s view on what is meant by “necessity”. I personally do not agree with the definition provided by the author. I believe it is too broad, especially in the modern world. Many of the homeless people in western world especially, have the very basic necessities to life (i.e.: Water, Food, Shelter). If we were to apply the authors definition of poverty, then Canadas “poverty rate” would be non-existent or very minimal. In the article titled; “The Nature of Concentrated Urban Poverty in Canada and the United States” written by Zoltan L. Hajnal, it attributes dramatic growth in poverty to the high levels of welfare dependency, educational deficiencies, and non-participating labor force2. With that being said, I think it would be fair to mention that poverty is about not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing, shelter but there is much more that meets the eye. The World Bank Organization describes poverty as:

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  “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time”3


            In addition to the lack of money, poverty is also about not being able to participate in recreational activities; not being able to send children on a day trip with their classmates or to a birthday party; not being able to pay for medications, etc.  These are all costs of being poor. When there is exclusion from society and lack of proper education, negative consequences are almost guaranteed to occur in society. In the long run, we all pay a price for poverty through the increased cost of our health care systems, the justice systems and other systems in place to provide support to those living in poverty. This has a clear impact on an economic standpoint, and tax reform.   

Although, in recent times we see that there is much progress in the right direction in the eradication or at least the minimization of poverty, there must be more work done to identify social indicators to track education, health, access to services, vulnerability, and social exclusion.

There is no one cause of poverty, and the results of it are different in every case. Poverty varies considerably depending on the situation. Feeling poor in Canada is different from living in poverty in Zimbabwe.  The differences between rich and poor within the borders of a country can also be significant.

Aside from the many definitions, one thing is certain; poverty is a complex societal issue. No matter how poverty is defined, it can be agreed that it is an issue that requires everyone’s attention.  It is important that all members of our society work together to provide the opportunities for all our members to reach their full potential. It helps all of us to help one another.

            Moving away from the technicality of the definition of poverty, I asked myself, if we cannot put a simple definition to poverty, then how does someone measure the poverty rate on a global scale. As mentioned earlier, someone living in poverty here in Canada might be well off compared to someone living in poverty in Haiti, where 77% of the citizens are considered poor and homeless4. Going back to week two’s reading, the author provides the various ways of calculating global poverty. Using “market baskets”, similar to Consumer Price Index, is a basket of all consumer goods one needs to live sufficiently. In 1992, the index for the market basket for a family of four in Toronto ranged from $18,342 to $30,4025. The problem with this is that it must be adjusted due to variable factors that play a very significant role. An example is whether there is hyper-inflation that year, or even worse a recession. There could be the increase of the price of goods and services through the ban of free trade between countries (i.e: The situation with NAFTA) while wages remain constant resulting in the market basket becoming more expensive. I believe creating a poverty line does not accurately depict the poverty rate in a country unless it is updated continuously and takes into account the various factors mentioned.

            The next topic I would like to bring up is the social challenges and social exclusion many people living in poverty face. Social exclusion means a lack of belonging, acceptance, and recognition6. In this section I would like to specifically focus on the exclusion many children living in poverty face. The causes of social exclusion are mainly due to the lack of strong government policies and services, and some would some add the free market economics. In the article; “The progress of Canada’s Children” (2002), it found that children living in poor families are less likely to have a positive experience at school, and in turn less likely to participate in recreational activities (joining a school team). These children living in poverty are also twice as likely to live in a “dysfunctional” family, which is a key driver for social exclusions and eventually criminality. Child poverty in Canada is still very much alive and well and shows no signs of diminishing. The latest data indicate a child poverty rate of 15.6%- equals out to about one in six children7.

            If we take a look at “Unemployment, Poverty and Social Isolation: Is there a vicious circle of social exclusion?” by Duncan Gaile, it argues that the concept of social exclusion is a downward spiral in which the labor market leads to poverty and social isolation, which in turn results in an increased risk of long-term unemployment8. The evidence in favor of the authors view has been largely reliant on cross-sectional data that assess the degree of association between labor market position, poverty status and patterns of sociability. In this article, it looks to test the arguments claimed by the author by exploring the relationship between these factors. The article begins by exploring whether the transition from employment to unemployment increases the risk of poverty and social exclusion, and then turns to the issue of whether poverty and social isolation significantly affect the length of time it takes people to leave unemployment for a job. The article concludes that there is in fact strong evidence that poverty contributes to a vicious circle of exclusion. Unemployment increases the risks of poverty and poverty in turn makes it more difficult for people to return to work.

            I personally agree with the author in that unemployment, and the unemployment rate are directly correlated with the poverty rate. In fact, I would like to take it a step further, and introduce the idea that poverty is directly correlated with violence and crime. In the Edinburgh Study, researchers followed the lives of about 4,300 young people transitioning from childhood to adulthood to study the link between childhood poverty and violence in the teenage years9. The results of the study found that poverty had a direct effect on the many factors that in fact encourage and influence violence. It has also found that children and young people alike who were living in a family where the head of the family is unemployed or in low-status employment, were significantly more likely to be engaged in violence. The conclusion offered by this study is that household poverty does act as a factor that increases the chances of young people engaging in violence. An early study, in the United States, by Flango and Sherbenou (1976) of 840 US cities found that poverty was the main factor explaining aggravated assault and burglary and many other types of crimes between cities10. Patterson’s (1991:769) study of crime victimization crimes rates found that ‘levels of absolute poverty, measured by the percentage of households with annual incomes below $5,000, are significantly associated with higher rates of serious violent crime’1112

1 Osberg, Lars (2000). Poverty in Canada and the United States: measurement, trends, and implications. Canadian Journal of Economics, November 2000, Vol. 33 Issue 4, p847-877, 31

2 Katz, M. B. (1990). The undeserving poor: From the war on poverty to the war on welfare. Pantheon Books.


3 de Soysa, I. and Vadlamannati, K. C. (2011), Does Being Bound Together Suffocate, or Liberate? The Effects of Economic, Social, and Political Globalization on Human Rights, 1981–2005. Kyklos, 64: 20–53.


4 de Soysa, I. and Vadlamannati, K. C. (2011), Does Being Bound Together Suffocate, or Liberate? The Effects of Economic, Social, and Political Globalization on Human Rights, 1981–2005. Kyklos, 64: 20–53

5 Osberg, Lars (2000). Poverty in Canada and the United States: measurement, trends, and implications. Canadian Journal of Economics, November 2000, Vol. 33 Issue 4, p847-877, 31

6 Leaman, Amy. 2011. “Learning from poverty in Canada and the U.K.” In the journal paper “Social Policy.” P. 51-53.


7 Finnie, Ross, and Arthur Sweetman. “Poverty dynamics: empirical evidence for Canada.” Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d’économique 36.2 (2003): 291-325.


8Gallie, Duncan, Serge Paugam, and Sheila Jacobs. “Unemployment, poverty and social isolation: Is there a vicious circle of social exclusion?.” European Societies 5.1 (2003): 1-32.


9 McAra, L and McVie, S (2016, in press), Understanding youth violence: the mediating effects of gender, poverty and vulnerability Journal of Criminal Justice).

10 Flango, V, E., and Sherbenou, E. L. (1976) Poverty, urbanization and crime, Criminology 14(3): 331?346


11 Patterson, E. B. (1991). Poverty, income inequality, and community crime rates. Criminology, 29(4)


12 Kingston, Sarah, and Colin Webster. “The most’undeserving’of all? How poverty drives young men to victimisation and crime.” Journal of Poverty and Social Justice 23.3 (2015): 215-227.