New report urges city action to tackle Toronto child poverty “epidemic”

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Five Toronto organizations today released the first comprehensive report on child and family poverty in Toronto since 2008, revealing wide-spread deprivation and a city where children’s life opportunities are significantly linked to neighbourhood of residence and ethno-racial background.

“We are a divided city,” says one of the report authors, Michael Polanyi from Toronto Children’s Aid Society. “Poverty remains hidden to many of us - yet there are neighbourhoods in our city where a majority of children live in poverty.”

The report, entitled “The Hidden Epidemic”, confirms that Toronto has the highest child and family poverty rate amongst large Canadian cities, with almost one in three children (29%) living below Statistics Canada’s After Tax Low Income Measure in 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available).

It also shows that after declining for several years, child poverty in Toronto is on the rise again, with 10,000 more children living in poor families in 2012 than in 2010.

In total, 146,000 Toronto children and youth lived in families with incomes below the Low Income Measure in 2012.

Toronto residents of African, Middle Eastern, Asian and Latin American descent were found to be one and a half to three times more likely to be living on low incomes compared to residents of British or European background.

“Canadians believe strongly that all children should have a fair chance at success,” said Avvy Go, of Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change. “A child’s ethno-racial background should not limit his or her access to the income, housing, food and education needed to thrive – but today, in Toronto, it often does.”

Across the city, child poverty is as low as 5% of children in some neighbourhoods (Leaside-Bennington, Lawrence Park North and South, and Kingsway) while over 50% in others (Regent Park, Moss Park, Thorncliffe Park and Oakridge).

Other key findings from the report which show a growing disparity in Toronto include:

  • The percentage of children living in low-income families decreased in 39 of 42 downtown (old City of Toronto) neighbourhoods between 2009 and 2012, while the percentage of low-income children increased in 19 of 26 Scarborough neighbourhoods and 7 of 8 North Etobicoke neighbourhoods.
  • The largest neighbourhood-level increases in child poverty (a 6 percentage point or more increase) were in Etobicoke (Kingsview Village-The Westway and Humber Heights-Westmount) and York (Lambton-Baby Point). The biggest decline in child poverty rate (10 percentage point drop) was seen downtown in the Church-Yonge Corridor.
  • New data from Toronto Public Health indicates that children in the lowest income census tracts are about twice as likely to have vulnerabilities which compromise their readiness to learn compared to children in the highest income census tracts.
  • Participation rates in extracurricular arts and sports by lowest-income children are about half that of children in highest income families.

“We cannot accept a situation where so many Toronto children are denied the basic supports they need to live and grow,” said Pearl Chrimes, Co-chair of the Alliance for Poverty-free Toronto. “Our incoming mayor has signed a pledge to fight poverty, so the next time we are here, we hope to have better news.”

Polanyi pointed to Toronto City Council’s resolution in April to develop a poverty reduction strategy for the city as a sign of hope. 

“Nearly 40 cities across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area and Canada have adopted or are developing poverty reduction strategies,” said Polanyi. “These action plans are addressing the root causes of poverty by creating better paying jobs and improving access to core services like housing, child care, transit and recreation.”

Public consultations on Toronto’s poverty reduction strategy begin later this month. 

The Hidden Epidemic: A Report on Child and Family Poverty in Toronto is authored by the Alliance for a Poverty-free Toronto, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change, Family Services Toronto, and Social Planning Toronto

Link to report:

Link to City Council motion to develop a poverty reduction strategy: 

For more information, contact:  Michael Polanyi at 416-712-6573 or Diane Dyson at 416-786-6765