Upwards of 125,000 Toronto children — more than one in four — are growing up in poverty, a problem that plagues pockets of every city ward, says a new report being released by Social Planning Toronto on Monday.
It is a disturbing reality all candidates vying for office in the Oct. 22 municipal election need to address, says the advocacy organization in its sixth annual report.
“Toronto is a city of great wealth and prosperity,” report says. “We can do better and … we must do better.”
With an overall poverty rate of 26.3 per cent, the city maintains its dubious status as the child poverty capital of Canada, said Peter Clutterbuck, the organization’s acting executive director.
“But there’s no question, poverty gets a bit more hidden in the larger 25-ward structure,” he said of the provincial government’s bombshell move to cut the city’s 47 wards to 25 midway through the municipal campaign.
Unlike past reports by the organization, which looked at child poverty by ward, the latest edition uses newly released 2016 data to examine the problem by census tract.
The data shows child poverty exists in all 25 of Toronto’s new city wards. Even in wards with lower rates, there are pockets where it is double or triple the ward’s overall percentage, the report notes.
“There is a tendency to assume poverty and child poverty are concerns only in certain areas of the city,” Clutterbuck said.
“But we should recognize in our own neighbourhoods, maybe a couple of blocks away, there is a community with a child poverty rate that is 10 per cent to 20 per cent higher,” he said.
For example, in Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence, 55 per cent of residents own their homes, the average after-tax household income is about $119,500, and child poverty runs at 15.1 per cent, the lowest in the city. And yet, child poverty more than triples to 52.6 per cent in the ward’s Lawrence Heights social housing community near Lawrence Ave. W. and Allen Rd.
In nearby Ward 12, Toronto—St. Paul’s, where the overall child poverty rate hovers at 15.5 per cent, the rate more than doubles to almost 38 per cent in the northeast corner of the ward near Eglinton Ave. E. and Mount Pleasant Rd.
Child poverty hovers around 24.7 per cent in the northwest corner of Ward 12 near Oakwood Ave. and Vaughan Rd., where Neil Donaldson has lived for more than two decades.
The artist and community activist said it wasn’t easy growing up in a struggling single-parent family so close to the affluent neighbourhoods of Cedarvale and Forest Hill.
“There was no community centre, no programming and nothing to motivate us culturally,” said Donaldson, 36. “I was lucky to have a diverse range of friends and to be driven to find my own supports.”
But he has peers who weren’t so fortunate.
“Many are unemployed, in jail or victims of violence. It’s just tragic and it doesn’t have to be that way,” he said.
Through his social enterprise, called Stolen from Africa, Donaldson is using his experience to help mentor and motivate young people in low-income neighbourhoods in Scarborough. And he is showcasing his provincially funded youth-resilience project — a multimedia art project called Crystals as Crowns — in his home neighbourhood on Oakwood Ave. on Oct. 25.
“I am hoping to be doing more work in the area because youth services and programming are still lacking,” he said.
Ten city wards — almost half in the new 25-ward system — have child poverty rates between 30 per cent and 45.2 per cent. But at the census tract level, rates soar as high as 72.3 per cent.
The report shows children in Indigenous, racialized and newcomer families are struggling the most, with child poverty rates of 84 per cent, 33 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.
Among children from various racial groups, poverty rates ranged from 36 per cent for Latin Americans to almost 44 per cent for Black families, 58 per cent for Arabs and 60 per cent for those of West Asian descent (which can include Afghans and Iranians).
Although youth who were born outside of Canada have extremely high poverty rates, children of West Asian and Black backgrounds continue to experience higher poverty rates even when they were born in Canada and have parents who were born here, according to the report.
The data “presents a disturbing picture of the reality of child and family poverty in Toronto (and) underscores the need for the next mayor and city council to make a serious commitment and take real action to improve conditions for families struggling in this city,” the report says.
“In particular, council will have to address the disproportionality of poverty impacting particular communities including Indigenous children, racialized children, and children in families of West Asian, Arab, Black and Latin American backgrounds.”
Sara Wolfe, an Indigenous midwife with Seventh Generation Midwives, said she sees the disparities up close among the patients she serves.
“Poverty impacts these families on so many levels,” she said. “It impacts their ability to have a healthy pregnancy, to take care of their other children, to just eat one meal, let alone a nutritious one.”
The Social Planning report focuses on children under 18. It considers children to be living in poverty if their annual family income is below Statistics Canada’s low-income measure, after taxes, which in Toronto was $31,301 for a single parent with one child and $44,266 for a couple with two children in 2015.
The report urges all candidates for city council to commit to fully fund Toronto’s poverty reduction strategy, anti-Black racism action plan and strategies for newcomers, youth equity, child care and affordable housing. It also wants the city to adopt measurable targets and timelines to assess its progress.
Toronto residents can’t afford four years of “inaction and half measures,” the report says.
“The well-being of Toronto’s 125,000 children living in poverty is at stake,” it warns. “These children and families deserve better.”
Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb