Poverty is Expensive

A few weeks ago we launched a phenomenal financial literacy program called Empower U – Building Confident Futures. The day after, we received about 35 calls from women in our community ready, willing, and eager to participate. These are women faced with a variety of challenges such as working more than one job, going to school, living on limited incomes and struggling to make ends meet.  Each of these women came from different backgrounds and situations but what they had in common was the strength and determination to provide for their families and for themselves.  

A program like Empower U acts as a springboard to help move people out of poverty rather than making living in poverty more comfortable. A recently released report called “Poverty Costs - An Economic Case for a Preventative Poverty Reduction Strategy in Alberta,” outlines the economic argument for ending poverty. It may be shocking for some to know that poverty costs Albertans between $7.1 and $9.5 billion every year.  These costs associated with poverty are calculated by looking at public services like health care, crime, and lost economic opportunities for children and people living in poverty. When you see these staggering numbers, it becomes obvious that we need to work to reduce poverty in Alberta,  but what do we need to know about poverty before we can take action?

Is it helpful to know that 73,000 children live in poverty in Alberta?
Is it helpful to know that 148,000 people live in poverty in Alberta?

I would assert that we don’t need to know more. We know that poverty is complex, and that it will take every system, the public, private and social service sectors, and people in our community to step up and address the gaps and identify the opportunities to eliminate poverty.  There may always be a need for safety nets in our community like social assistance, food banks, homeless shelters, but we need to provide opportunities to transition out of those programs sooner.  We need opportunities for people to be able to meet their household expenses.  A family should not have to choose between paying the rent or buying food.  People deserve to be paid fair wages that allow them to pay for life’s necessities, they need opportunities to increase their skills, and have opportunities and incentives to reach their full potential. That’s why programs like Empower U are so important; they give people the training and support to develop their skills and the opportunity to grow their personal, social and financial assets.   

Believe it or not, it actually costs less to prevent poverty than it does to pay for the effects of poverty in the long run.  When more people are thriving in our community, participating socially and economically – we all win. Let’s not make living in poverty more comfortable, let’s eliminate it all together and have a stronger, healthier economy and community. We all do better as a community, when we all work together to make critical changes in our systems.  No one person or organization can eliminate poverty on their own.  This is not an individual issue, it is a community issue, and we all need to work together for every individual to reach their full potential, and be included in our community.

Joanne Currie, Director, Financial Stability and Independence, United  Way of the Alberta Capital Region


Do you agree with Joanne? Is it time for action or do we need to know more? Do you believe eliminating poverty in the Alberta Capital Region is even possible? And if not, should that stop us from trying? Let us know in the comments.

Please read the Poverty Costs report and watch this great video on ending poverty in Alberta. More information can be found at ActionToEndPovertyInAlberta.org