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Child Poverty in Toronto, Ontario Essay

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Updated: Nov 3rd, 2021


Even before the global financial crisis that is currently ravaging the economies of the world, the welfare of the child was already in trouble in Toronto. The rate of poverty of persons below the age of 18 years started to increase at alarming rates in 1990; and since 1995, the trend has been that of constant increase. In 1990, about 24% of the children in Toronto were living in poverty as measured by the Low Income Cut Off (LICO); this translated to about one in every 4 children (Hughes, 2001). These figures changed to one child in three (about 36%) by the year 1995.

The number of children living in poverty had increased from 74,000 in 1990 to 176,300 in 1995; this was a 73% increase. However, despite the current economic downturn, the period from 1995 has been that of steady economic growth in Toronto; unfortunately, this has not seen a corresponding betterment of the welfare of the child in the same period; in fact, the level of child poverty has remained more or less the same and the number of children living in poverty has increased. In 1995, there were approximately 94,300 families living in poverty; three years later, in 1998, this number had increased to 99,940, a 3% shift. During this period, about 25% of all families in Toronto were living below the poverty line; with a higher prevalence of poverty among single-parent families with 49% (about half) of all single-parent families living in poverty (Hughes, 2001; 2008).

Now that the economic crisis has hit, it is scary to think what its effect will be on the levels of child poverty in Toronto if the trends showed a steady increase even during periods of average economic growth in the city. In this light, child poverty is top on the in-tray of social workers in Toronto since it not only makes the children suffer, it also robs them of their future potential of being all they can be; and robs the nation’s future productive citizens (Rothman, 2007).

Toronto; the Child Poverty Capital of Ontario

In a report titled “Greater trouble in Greater Toronto” released in 2008 by the Children’s Aid Societies and Social Planning Network, Toronto is named as the child poverty capital of Ontario (Hughes, 2008). This has mainly been attributed to the increase in levels of child poverty in the Greater Toronto Area with the maximum effects being felt in Toronto city. Of all the children living in poverty in the province of Ontario, 50% of them live in the Greater Toronto Area. Contrary to an expected growth of child poverty in the downtown and low-income areas, there has been an alarming increase in child poverty in the suburban zones of Toronto with areas such as Peel and York showing 51% and 44% increases in the numbers of children living below the poverty line since 1997.

Urbanization of child poverty

The trend of increase of child poverty has been that of urban spread. This was noted from the 1970s where the long-term trend of concentration of low-income families in urban areas was described (Hughes, 2001; Myles et al, 2000). Comparatively, poverty levels among children are higher in large urban areas than in more rural areas; as such, one child in twenty-live below the poverty line in small urban centers and townships compared to one child in four living in the same status in Toronto. Additionally, the difficulty associated with low income is more pronounced in a large city than in a small township; with the large number of people in large cities competing for limited services than the city authorities, it is more likely that the more vulnerable children will be left out of either due to their lack of ability to compete or by city officials overlooking this group as requiring aid. Additionally, compared to townships, purchasing power of low income is higher in the former than in the latter. Finally, in small townships, it is easier for poor households to get non-governmental aid than in large cities since in the former, such well-wishers will know these households on a personal basis.

Child poverty in Lone-parent families

Many of the families in Toronto have the mother as the head. This section of the society has a disproportionate representation among the poor families in Toronto (and indeed in all major cities of the world). Toronto does not only have the highest (compared to Peel, York, Durham and Halton) proportion of children who are part of a lone parent family standing at 29%, but it also has the highest level of this section of children living below the poverty line (standing at 51%; that is, more than half of these children) [Hughes, 2008].

There is a connection between the growth of urban areas and the increase of lone-parent families in most parts of the world; consequently, lone-parent families (same as child poverty) tend to be urbanized as their proportion tends to increase as the size of the community enlarges. This is a critical point for approaching the issue of child poverty with the aim of reducing it through the identification and support of single-parent homes both by provincial and city authorities; and non-governmental aid agencies dealing with mitigation of child poverty (Rothman, 2007).

Among the points that have been identified as promoting poverty in children born in single-parent homes is the issue of childcare. If a child was to be enrolled in a quality childcare program, then the parent can engage in other activities that might enable them to get out of the poor status and improve their standard of living such a working or attending school (Rothman, 2007). Additionally, such care centers promote early learning to toddlers and healthy development; therefore giving them the physical and mental capacity to get out of poverty in the future.

However, childcare, with all its benefits for child welfare has been the one thing unavailable to lone parents in Toronto. Compared to the number of children needing this service, the number of licensed care centers in the Greater Toronto Area is far from adequate; additionally, the cost attached to enrolling a child in one of these centers is prohibitive going at an average of $47 per day per child effectively lock many single parents from this service. Government efforts to subsidize some of these centers have been but a drop in the ocean compared to the demand.

The need for child care is critical for reducing child poverty in Toronto; although it is an issue that affects all the families regardless of parent status, in lone-parent families it is a factor that causes, increases and retains them in a state of poverty (Rothman, 2007). Its importance is reiterated by the fact that about 83% of all single parents working or going to school have enrolled their children in a childcare center. Conversely, two-thirds of lone parents on social support cite their inability to access childcare facilities either due to availability or due to cost as being the main impediment for getting employed. The plight of the single parent is made further highlighted by the fact that out of every five people using a food bank, one is a single parent.

Child poverty in Toronto: An issue of race

Immigration is one of the major points of development in Canada, and it brings a wealth of skilled labor from all over the world. Many immigrants use Toronto as the landing site before they proceed to settles in other Canadian cities and provinces; and a good number of them end up settling in the city. Consequently, Toronto has the highest proportion of immigrants in the population in the whole country standing at 48% (Hughes, 2008).

New settlers in Toronto and indeed in Canada face many challenges that range from language barriers and inability to get employment due to failure to recognize credentials. They may also encounter overt discrimination; all these issues make it difficult for this section to adapt well to their new settlements. Consequently, they have been hit hard by the scrooge of child poverty; and disproportionately compared to other sections of the population.

The racial disproportion of child poverty in Toronto affects both newcomers and children born in Canada. The ratios of children in poverty to those who are not clearly showing this disproportion are as follows; 1:10 for European descent children, 1:5 for east Asians, 1:4 for Central And South American, Caribbean, South Asians And Aboriginal, 1:3 for West Asian and Arabs; and 1:2 for children from African descent (Hughes, 2001;2008; Ornstein, 2000).

Immigrant settlement tends to be urbanized; as such, 79% of all immigrants in the province of Ontario have settled in the Greater Toronto Area (Myles et al, 2000). Additionally, immigration regulations ensure that younger immigrants are favored over older ones; consequently, the rate of childbirth is higher among the immigrant community than the general population. These factors thus contribute to the disproportionate representation of minorities in the child poverty bracket (Ornstein, 2000).

Child poverty and housing

The proportion of the Toronto population that is most likely not to afford basic housing includes immigrants, single mothers and those who live alone. Housing is unaffordable if the cost exceeds 30% of a person’s after-tax income (Cooper, 2001). The issue of affordable housing affects a person if the income is too low and if there is a shortage of such housing. In the Greater Toronto Area, the waiting list for provision of social housing has 78,000 households; this amounts to a range of 2 to 5 years of waiting; the major cause of unaffordable housing in Toronto is therefore unavailability (Hughes, 2008; Cooper, 2001).

Faced with an increasing section of poor households, this problem is bound to get worse if no action is taken to change this scenario. To put the problem into the perspective of the child, the parents have to make a choice between paying rent or buying food and other amenities; as such families with food banks are a constant source of food spending about 77% of their income on rent.

This situation can go a step further into homelessness if a parent can not raise the rent. Consequently, many children are among the thousands of people who pass through homeless shelters every year. This disrupts their education thus further entrenching their inability to get out of their situation in the future (Beauvais and Jenson, 2003).

Challenges in Child Poverty Social Work

We have explored various aspects of child poverty and highlighted the factors that make some sections of the population more vulnerable to child poverty than others. Among the most remarkable aspects of child poverty in Toronto is the fact that the rate of poverty on average increased even in the face of a steady economic growth between 1990 and 1995. There has to be breakage somewhere between the general economy of the city and indeed the province and the poverty levels of its inhabitants.

In the recent past, some efforts have borne fruits in the attempt to reduce child poverty in Toronto. For example, between 1994 and 2001, the number of children on social assistance reduced from 192,000 cases to 111,000 cases. Two events during the period have been attributed to this decline; one of them is the creation of 116,200 jobs in the period between 1995 and 2000; a large proportion of these was full-time (102,100) [Hughes, 2001].

However, the decline was also caused by a policy change that aimed at reducing child poverty. A good example of this is the reduction in the number of earnings required for one to qualify for (or leave) welfare. Another is the re-categorization of parents in post-secondary academic institutions by changing them from welfare to student loans.

However, there has to be a very clear demarcation between the reduction of welfare caseloads and child poverty. Just because a parent becomes employed and leaves welfare doesn’t necessarily mean the family has stopped being poor; on the contrary, such a family may have to move in-work poverty with a good possibility of reverting back to welfare.

Two main challenges thus stand in the way of reduction of child poverty in Toronto; the failure by the relevant authorities to separate poverty and economic growth (thus the assumption that the latter will automatically reduce the former; and the lack of sustainability of measure put in place to reduce child poverty.

Social work alone cannot reduce child poverty in Toronto; a lot of effort has to come from both the provision and the federal government. For example, the logistics involved in investment in low-cost housing required to cater to the current deficit cannot be carried out by private entities. Additionally, some of the measures to increase the purchasing power of low-income earners such as increased social assistance, tax benefits, investment in early learning and childcare services (and subsidization of such service for low-income earners) can only be carried out by a government due to the cost and logistical inputs required. As such, goodwill enough is not alone.


In 1989, the House of Commons made a unanimous resolution to end child poverty by the year 2000. That date has come and gone; and the rate has continued to rise in spite of steady economic growth. With the world still writhing from the effects of a caustic economic downturn, the future of the children in low-income households remains in the balance.

A society that does not invest in the future by ensuring the best possible development of the children faces inevitable extinction; the question is whether the Canadian society will fall into this trap.


Beauvais C and Jenson J. (2003): The well-being of children: “are there neighborhood effects“? Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc. 2003.

Cooper M (2001): Housing Affordability: A Children’s Issue: Canadian Policy Research Networks Discussion paper. Web.

Hughes Colin (2008): Greater Trouble in Greater Toronto: Child Poverty in the GTA: Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, Web.

Hughes Colin (2001): Report Card on Child Poverty In Toronto; April 2001: Toronto Campaign. Web.

Myles, J., Picott, G. and Pyper, W. (2000): Neighborhood Inequality in Canadian Cities: Paper presented at the Canadian Economics Association Meeting, Vancouver 2000.

Ornstein, M. (May, 2000) Ethno-Racial Inequality in the City of Toronto: An Analysis of the 1996 Census, City of Toronto.

Rothman Laurel (2007): Oh Canada! Too many children in poverty for too long: Pediatric Child Health; 12(8): 661–665.

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