Poverty: Perception vs. Reality

Task Force: David Helliwell, Gabriel Jean-Simon, Flavie Major, Ann McCann, Annamie Paul, Jamie Ross and Zenia Wadhwani


Poverty among new immigrants, post-secondary graduates and working-poor families is undermining Canada’s future. That’s what seven Action Canada Fellows discovered after embarking on an ambitious examination of poverty in Canada. Their concern for the issue arose from Canada’s recent slide from first to eighth place in the United Nations Human Development Index and its ranking of 12th out of 17 countries in another UN classification, the Human Poverty Index. To investigate the problem, the group commissioned an EKOS poll to determine citizens’ perceptions about poverty issues. They learned that nine out of ten Canadians think the country ranks higher on the poverty index than it actually does, indicating a significant gap between public perception and reality. The group used statistics and personal interviews to explore and highlight particular issues, including under-employment among new immigrants, debt loads for post-secondary graduates and the struggles of the working poor. To bring their message to Canadians and policy makers, the group produced a poster for national distribution and wrote an editorial conveying their concern and soliciting a call for action. Their message: “The poor are your neighbours, your co-workers, perhaps your friends. We want YOU to get involved, and there are things you can do to help. Volunteer your time. Adjust your consumer habits to support socially responsible businesses. Lobby your elected representatives. Let’s make this a policy priority for our government.”

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