In this series of articles I will attempt to present a portrait of Alberta’s performance with respect to the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The first UN SDG is to eliminate Poverty. On an international level the UN’s goal is to: By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day.’ Of course there are presumably no Albertans earning $1.25 a day or less!
A more meaningful and relevant goals of the UN that would apply to Alberta is a) By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions and b) “By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.”
According to these goals, Alberta might pursue the goal of ensuring all Albertans earn a living wage (at least $15 per hour or higher depending on the city or town you live in). I’ve estimated that roughly 32% of Albertans were not earning a living wage in 2014. A living wage (unlike a minimum wage) is the amount of income a family needs to bring home based on the actual costs of living in a specific community. Current estimates of living wages for Calgary are $18.15 per hour, $16.31 per hour in Edmonton and $13.65 per hour in Medicine Hat.
Major Alberta cities including Edmonton, Calgary and Medicine Hat have set lofty goals for eliminating poverty. EndPoverty Edmonton set an ambitious goal of eliminating poverty within a generation and is now in the process of attempting to ‘lift 10,000 Edmontonians’ out of poverty. But what does this really mean? Does it suggest that 10,000 Edmontonians now living below a living wage and spending more than 30% of their household income on housing will enjoy a living wage or better in 5-years time?
When we look at ‘poverty’ statistics over time for Alberta, we seem to be making good progress? Using Statistics Canada’s data on the number (%) low-income (after-tax) Alberta households who lack sufficient income for what might be considered a decent life the following graph shows that Alberta’s unofficial ‘poverty rate’ has been declining since 1993, the last time Alberta’s economy was in the oil economy doldrums. The percentage of low-income Albertans in 2011 was 8.2% compared to the Canadian average of 12.6%. Statistics Canada has not updated the low-income statistics since 2011 but we might expect to see a rise in the percentage of Alberta households that have slipped into impoverished financial conditions.
Poverty is more than simply lack of sufficient income but includes lack of other personal life assets including financial literacy as well as negative impacts such as mental health, depression, anxiety as well as the impacts of domestic violence and physical, mental and psychological abuse that has impacted so many Albertans.
Poverty may never be fully eliminated, however, we can do our best to ensure our friends, neighbours and employees earn a fair and living wage and receive the compassion to overcome some of the other life challenges that are at the root of poverty.
Income inequality in Alberta, measured by the Gini Coefficient, has been rising steadily since the early 1980s and reached an all-time high in 2015 (see graph). Income inequality has risen in relative proportion to Alberta’s GDP per capita. This suggests that wealthier households in Alberta are doing better than lower income households.
The Canadian Index of Well-being has developed an alignment of the Canadian well-being indicators, both objective (from statistics) and subjective (from a community well-being survey) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The following image shows which indicators could be used to track Canada’s and Alberta’s progress towards these goals.