Child Poverty

By: Meron Teweldemedhin

Meron: You get up in the morning like you usually do, you brush your teeth, wash your face, and eat your breakfast. You’re then heading to your destination at York Mills and along the way you notice kids wearing urban outfitter jeans, polo shirts, Canadian goose jackets, nike tanjun and they have have the new expensive Iphone 7. You view this everyday, it’s the image you have of a rich, prospering city that is Toronto, with all its glimmering skyscrapers... you can’t fathom the idea of poverty in your city, although you know poverty in fact exists around the world. However, Child poverty is a significant issue in Toronto, as it stands at 29.6% of children in Toronto are living in low-income households, which positions Toronto as the child poverty capital according the Toronto Star. Of Toronto poverty rates are, 507,810 children ranging from the ages of 0–17….145,890, or 29%, live in poverty which is by far the highest proportion of any city in Canada. Toronto has the highest percentage of impoverished children, while Montreal comes in second with 25%, Winnipeg at third with 24% and lastly Hamilton with 22%. Michael Polanyi, of the of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, is a community worker  I discovered in this Toronto Star article and his group basically tackle issues dealing with kids. So, their mission is essentially the following:

  • - Protect children and youth from abuse, and neglect;

  • - Provide safe and nurturing care for children and youth;

  • - Advocate to meet the needs of children, youth, families, and communities.

Meron: There are specific areas in Toronto in which poverty seems rampant and the number range from over 50 per cent in Regent Park, Moss Park, Oakridge and Thorncliffe Park to less than 5 per cent in Lawrence Park North and Kingsway South. Now, I’m not trying to make the assumption that  this affects mainly minority groups, but these areas riddled with poverty and are the same areas in which there seems to be a significant amount of immigrants struggling to find employments or stable jobs. So, according to the toronto star, Kids with disabilities, newcomers, indigenous, or kids living with a single parent are more likely to experience poverty in their lifetime in these areas.  

Meron: I was able to interview Michael Polanyi, a community worker from the children’s aid society of Toronto and ask a few questions. So, Michael, mind giving a little introduction?

Michael: Yeah sure! I'm a community worker at children's aid society of Toronto and I'm partnered with the community development program here and what we do is work in partnership with families and individuals in the community and what we do is help them advocate for improvements in their neighborhoods.

Meron: How do you do this?

Michael: my focus is on working with residents to help them advocate for better

living conditions and help them advocate better income, services like housing, child care, transit--that sort of thing. Many families in Toronto are faced with financial stress, partly because of the cost of housing and the difficulty in accessing well paying jobs. And that puts a lot of stress on families that are trying to take care of their children. So, that’s why we’re trying to create better living conditions that improve the lives of children.       

Meron: I see, and I’d just like to add a little fact before we move on. So, just to put in into perspective, according to the Salvation Army, over 2 million households spend over 50% of their income on rent and there are 886,000 Canadian children in poverty. As a result, Salvation Army has dedicated their time in helping people, whether it be through soup kitchens, shelters, thrift shops, and food banks.

Meron: Notice that Parents are left with very little to work with, around Regent Park, Moss Park, Oakridge and Thorncliffe. They have inadequate jobs to sustain better living conditions, happiness and are usually forced to choose between gas or dinner often. And when the parents are affected most, it is expected that the children will suffer much worse. That is why 1 in 7 children go to school hungry in Toronto according to the Salvation army.

Meron: Speaking of school, I remember when I was in my first year of high school (grade 9) I remember my drama teacher would always offer us snacks while no other teacher did. So, when we questioned why she was freely handing us food, she told us a story of a student who passed out in her classroom because she was starving. The girl had not eaten for a while due to financial issues in her family, and as a result just passed out in the drama classroom. Ever since, hearing that story I began to believe that poverty may in fact exist, it’s just hidden under our noses. When we think of poverty we think of poorly dressed individuals, famine, malnutrition, etc. It’s essentially the image of starving African kids you see in the media. It’s perpetuated in the media so much that you begin to believe that this is how poverty looks like and nothing else. However, even the most well dressed children could be going through poverty and you don’t notice because they are able to disguise it that is why it’s hidden.

Mohammed: Yeah, I think you’re right about that. There does seem to be this misconception that poverty overall is the image of africa and cannot be in North America. While that has some truth, there are also faults in this argument. It’s different because of the level of poverty in africa is much higher than that of north America in general.

Meron: Yea, you’re definitely right about that.

Scene 2

Meron: So, Michael...I wanted to ask, how prevalent is Child Poverty in Toronto?

Michael: Well, we’re just actually about to release a report on that in weeks time and we’ve done a couple of other reports. So, just based on last years report, we found that Toronto has the highest percentage of children who are living in a low-income family, compared to any other city in Canada. That’s over half a million in basically among the largest cities in Canada, Toronto has the worst record in terms of child poverty and last years number was 29%. So, it’s a significant widespread problem.

Mern: Yeah, I completely agree--after doing the research and finding the same problem.

Meron: I think many of us aren’t exactly aware of the causes and contributing factors to child poverty. Could it be lone parents? Can you give us insight, Michael?

Michael: Yes, definitely. Some families are more adversely affected and are struggling on lower income, so newcomer families that been in Canada less than 5 years face a lot of challenges in accessing employment, accessing good children in those families tend to be experiencing challenges and as you mentioned lone parents, tend to have a hard time earning the income they need to support their children. So, that’s another challenge and families of non-European backgrounds, so, racialized families also face a lot of barriers in terms of accessing employment, accessing good jobs, so they are also are struggling on lower-income. So, those are some of the factors and clearly the most important thing is access to a decent paying jobs and I mean, you probably know that a lot of young people struggle to get employment, well paid, full time, secure, with benefits, etc. And I think that many families are relying on work that is just inadequate in terms of paying for high cost of housing, child care, and food. Food prices have gone up, home heating, transit gone up, so lots of families are facing a hard time.

Meron: Oh, Yeah, I’ve seen many friends often struggle to find jobs in general. Based on your organization’s report (CAS) in 2013, unemployment in Toronto, at 8.4%, was higher than in any other major Canadian city. 43.5%, which is essentially Toronto’s youth employment rate, is the worst of any Ontario region. So, Yeah I kinda see the pattern. Thank you for that though!

Meron: I want to dive in on Toronto housing cost and transit costs. So, we know that Toronto is an expensive city to live in... but where is it on the list? Well it’s the second most expensive city in Canada. CTVNEWS published an article this year showcasing the inflation. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, the average condo rentals in 2016 in Toronto stood at the following:

  • Bachelor, $1,376 – a 3.8 per cent year-over-year increase

  • One-bedroom, $1,662 – a 4.8 per cent year-over-year increase

  • Two-bedroom, $2, 375 – a 8.9 per cent year-over-year increase

  • Three-bedroom, $2,789 – a 0.5 per cent year-over-year increase

This showcases that Toronto’s rental prices are at a record high. This is one the reasons that could explain why parents are struggling to put food down on the table for their kids, It could also be a good indication as to why Toronto is the capital of child poverty. Is the correlation becoming clearer to you right now? Earlier I stated that Canadians spend 50% of their income on rent. Rent itself occupies such a huge number on people’s income.

Mohammed: Transit also plays a role in poverty. Since, it’s almost impossible for struggling families to own a car and insurance. They depend on transit, which is $3.25 for adults and $2.00 for students per ride if you don’t own a monthly pass (metrocard) in which case is about $141.50. That is still pricey for many people on the daily basis. Although recently, the TTC has begun to offer kids 12 and under to be able to ride for free, which is an improvement and helpful to the families. However, Other than that cut, I don’t particularly think the TTC will be cutting down prices for the metro or weekly prices as they are expanding their project and the production of new trains and buses for transportation.

Meron: Another issue that many children often face is malnutrition. Which is essentially lacking the basic nutrients. Organic foods have become expensive over the years and has left many people suffering with malnutrition. The reason it has become expensive is because 1. Organic would mean no chemicals such as pesticides or fertilizers would be used, which is a cheaper method. It allows the farmers to spend less on labor, paying less workers essentially. The overall production is expensive and takes longer compared if chemicals were used. In a Globe and Mail article we have personal accounts from people who explain why they are hesitant buy organic food for their children. Jennifer McCormick Birnstihl, a mother of three, says there’s just no room in her budget for that kind of added cost. “I’m not against organic food, I just resent the fact that they’re charging so much for it.” Raising three kids and trying to purchase healthier foods, depending on your income will become a bit difficult. That’s why I personally believe if there isn’t poverty there will be obesity due to the amount of chemical inserted food production. Oddly enough, obesity does seem to be rampant in lower socioeconomic areas because they are willing to buy and eat unhealthy foods as long as it can suffice their hunger. It makes sense, since the food terrible for your health is much cheaper than the nutritious food.

Scene 3 (final)

Meron: Now that we realize there is a substantial issue in Toronto,what can we do about it? What should the Government do? What measures do we need to take in order to alleviate this issue, Michael?

Michael: Well, we’re focussed on city level and recently the city actually approved strategies to reduce poverty a year ago and it included 140 actions. It included access to affordable housing by repairing community housing, it included reducing the price of transit, so, reducing transit fares, especially for people living on low-income, so a lot of cities in Canada have reduced fare for people who fall below the poverty line. So, that’s another in the strategies. There are also other recommendations for making city land available for community garden so people can supplement their nutritional intake but also sell and grow things and add to their incomes. So, there have been more recommendations but the city has been hesitant to move forward and some of these things cost money (hahaha)

And the City right now is facing 600 million kind of gap and their spending is growing. The amount of income they’re bringing in is going down, so they’ve been saying they can’t afford to take these investments in improving all lives of families.

Even a small increase in property tax, a small tax on parking spots in malls, or a small hotel tax on people who are coming into the city and use our services and infrastructure, so those are ways the city are ways the city can bring in revenue and be able to make the investments to make sure that everyone, every child, every family gets access to a decent house, enough to eat and recreation programs which basically saves everyone’s money. So yeah...  

Meron: I think some of these recommendations can definitely help and it also makes sense as to why the city can’t afford it with it’s constant spending.    

Meron: Luckily enough, the government of Canada has taken steps in order to reduce child poverty this year. According to a Toronto Star article, Child’s new benefit, after July 1, will slash child poverty by 40 per cent, the largest single drop in the country’s history and that is according to the federal minister in charge of the initiative. Jean-Yves Duclos, minister for families, children and social development, this will allow many kids ranging from 300,000 to be pulled out of poverty around the GTA…...So, these are significant steps in improving the livelihood of children and families.

Meron: Growing up in poverty can definitely have terrible effects on kid’s physiological and physical development which can hamper their ability to succeed in life later on. Not only that, but it could make criminals out of kids who feel like they have to go out of their way to attain something they need by unnecessary force once they reach a certain age. Kids who are in low socioeconomic status are more likely to experience poorer health and development outcomes both in childhood and adulthood, compared to kids of higher socioeconomic status according to the CAS report. I truly believe it can have long lasting effects that will hamper the child, that is why there needs to be attention placed on this issue. We know that we really can’t eradicate poverty as a whole but we can definitely reduce it.

Meron: Anyways, I’d like to thank my guest Michael Polayni and my friend Mohammed for being on the podcast. I hope this podcast a was bit entertaining for the rest you listeners. Thank you.

Note: Michael Polanyi is my Interviewee but he wasn’t in the podcast due to issues with his audio during editing. Instead, my friend Mohammed was reading his exact responses, except for the comments that have “Mohammed” on them.




Works Cited

Monsebraaten, Laurie. "Toronto Holds onto Its Shameful Title: Child Poverty Capital of Canada |    

        Toronto Star." David Holland, 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

KEMP-JACKSON, SAMANTHA. "Is Organic Food Too Costly?" The Globe and Mail. Special to The

          Globe and Mail, 10 July 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

Commisso, Christina. "Rent Prices among the Casualties of Hot Housing Markets."

          CTVNews, 29 Apr.  2016. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

Monsebraaten, Laurie. "Child Benefit to Pull Record Number of Kids out of Poverty, Minister Says |

           Toronto Star." David Holland, 15 June 2016. Web. 03 Nov. 2016. (Salvation Army stats)


Recommended Resources  (I didn’t go into detail too much on this, but this has everything) (give this a read too)



I’d like to thank my friend Mohammed for helping me, by reading my Interviewee's responses, since the audio failed even after editing.