Alberta and UN Sustainable Development Goal #1: End Poverty

Alberta Poverty SDG #1

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.

Alberta Poverty SDG #1

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.

Alberta Gini Coefficient and GDP











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.

UN SDG #1 End Poverty and CIW


About Mark Anielski

I am an economic strategist and the author of the Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth, a book that provides a roadmap to the new economy of well-being and a life of purpose and meaning.
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4 Responses to Alberta and UN Sustainable Development Goal #1: End Poverty

  1. Alan Blanes says:

    Thanks very much for analyzing the steps required to reach the 17 SDGs Mark. I feel that Alberta and BC ought to be developing some tactical collaborations that will make earnings of people with various diagnosed barriers a recognized floor, rather than a “maximum allowed income”. This kind of enforced impoverishment is counter-productive to the enabling of maximization of the functionality of people with diverse abilities.

    Is there an chance that a task force might be created to enable the income support for people who – because of diagnosed conditions – are not able to work in regular hourly employment – that the programs such as AISH in Alberta and PWD in BC be recognized as strictly replacement income, due to not this diagnosed population viably working in the 40 hour a week labour force?

    This would enable disabled persons in the two western provinces to become a population sample that could introduce the concept of basic income. This would mean that earnings above disability support would categorically not be seen as funds that could result in “clawing back” income support. The funds that are earned above the allowable $800 that can be earned in casual work each month, would ONLY be subjected to normal income tax rules.

    This would provide a recognition that disabilities that are sufficient to cause a person to not be suitable for regular hourly employment, should enable that factor to be compensated as a discrete, free-standing, event. However, it is not in the interest of either the disabled community, or the public in general, to see any deliberate marginalization of this population, by disallowing other forms of earnings from being pursued.

    Alberta and BC could become leaders in the economic empowerment of those who are prevented for normal workday employment, by allowing their authorization to become engaged in non-hourly employment service delivery, that falls within the capacities of people in this demographic, without creating a situation of being “reclassified as employable”. Our provinces have to develop an understanding of the distinction that needs to be made here. Inability to do hourly jobs, is a separate subject than being involved with remunerated contracts for services that are not deemed hourly employment earnings.

    Anti-poverty and disability activists would be well advised to get these distinctions fully developed and understood by the public services sector, and by the population as a whole. It would enable a tangible practice of the goals of economic self determination, that Canada has been – on paper – supportive of, since Canada began the drafting of the Declarations and Covenants on universal rights 72 years ago.

    I see this as being relevant to Goal 16 of the 17 SDGs as well. This goal addresses overhauling dysfunctional institutional systems, and achieving equal justice for all.

  2. Alan Blanes says:

    I would like to share your reply with everyone who has graduated from the Inter Council Network Hive Mind course, who has an interest in Goals 1 and 16.

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