Poverty is about not being able to make ends meet – and that means more than just a lack of food, shelter and clothing.

Poverty takes many forms and in most cases results in a loss of self-esteem, identity, privilege, and power. When we talk about poverty, we’re really talking about an absence of more than just money, we’re talking about an absence of support for children from birth to kindergarten, we’re talking about families and individuals not able to maintain independence and financial stability in their homes and lives, and we’re talking about communities unable to find the resources to strengthen well being and the neighbourhoods in which we live.

For the 120,000 people living in poverty in the Alberta Capital Region, it means so much more than not having enough money. It means devoting more time to just surviving; it can mean forgetting what hope is, living in fear of what might happen today or the next.

The cost of poverty is a wake-up call, with $7.1 - $9.5 billion being spent each year in Alberta. 

As Albertans and taxpayers, each one of us is contributing between $2,700 and $3,600 per year to make little, if any, progress toward actually eradicating the problem.

The system our society has in place is designed to alleviate the impacts of poverty. But it’s a system that comes at an extreme cost from both economic and social perspectives.

People living in poverty are more likely to require greater medical services due to chronic health concerns. They are more likely to have lower levels of education and literacy, resulting in fewer opportunities for them. These challenges can lead to desperation and, in the most difficult of situations, lead to criminal activity and risky behaviours, which adds further pressure and costs to our justice and social service systems.

Addressing poverty is not something that one organization or order of government can take on alone – it takes a truly collaborative effort.

At no time in the 70-year history of United Way in the Alberta Capital Region has the alignment been stronger to take a bold approach in addressing a problem as profound and pervasive as poverty.

United Way participated in discussions and provided input towards the Government of Alberta’s Social Policy Framework, helping guide collective efforts to meet the needs of Albertans. It provides decision-making tools to address social challenges and a foundation for evaluating progress in the province.

Along with the provincial framework, the government has made “helping children in need” one of its top priorities; with the Premier sharing a goal to eliminate child poverty within five years.

The City of Edmonton continues to make strides with the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. In the fall of 2012, The Edmonton Homeless Commission reported that the homeless count fell 30% since the peak of 2008, with numbers now at 2,174; a total of 907 less than in 2008.

Using United Way’s Community Impact Framework as a foundation, the City has extended its efforts by launching the development of the Edmonton Poverty Elimination Initiative. The collaboration on these efforts goes further, with United Way co-chairing the steering committee focused on this work.

Combined with the work United Way does directly with the many community and corporate supporters in the region, great strides are being made to meet the overwhelming desire to move forward with a bold vision and plan for our community.

The primary risk factors that can lead to poverty are low education, lack of family supports, limited skills training, mental illness, and/or lack of savings.

Often, there is no single cause of why someone is living in poverty, but instead it is a multitude of entwined factors, making poverty complex and without boundaries.


Our social safety net doesn't catch everyone. As a result, the affects spread to groups including Aboriginal residents who experience poverty at twice the rate of non-aboriginal residents. As well, it affects immigrants dealing with language, cultural barriers and seeking employment; seniors who live on fixed incomes; and people with disabilities who must rely on social supports.


Research shows that people who are born into poverty are more likely to live in poverty as adults. They often haven’t had the stability at home needed to complete high school; they’re less likely to go on to post-secondary education, and so they begin adult life at a disadvantage.

Working Poor

It could be that you are working, and at more than one job. But without a higher education – and being a single parent or the sole income source for your family – it still isn’t enough to make ends meet. In fact, in 2010, 52% of Alberta’s children living in poverty were in a household where one or more people had full-time employment for the full year.


Life can throw curve balls. A turn in the economy or a family illness, can lead to job loss and sudden financial crisis. Disabilities, mental or physical illness, a difficult divorce or abuse can all contribute to a life in poverty.

In a word – everyone. From the strain it puts on social supports and taxpayers to the physical and financial toll it takes on families and individuals, we are all affected.

Based on the Low Income Measure After-Tax (LIM AT), a family of four in Alberta earning $38,000 after taxes would be considered poor. For a single person, this cut off would be a yearly salary of $19,000.

Poverty is more prevalent and runs deeper for lone parent families, people with disabilities, newcomers, young people and the Aboriginal population.

The effects are not limited to those considered to be poor. While unemployment and low wages can be a cause; people can actually make a good income and still experience financial ruin due to a health problem, a death in the family or another crisis that alters the course of their life.

The following are key risk factors that contribute to a life in poverty.

  • Lack of education
  • Insufficient access to quality, early childhood development opportunities
  • Insufficient age-appropriate literacy skills
  • Lack of access to quality, out-of-school-time programming for children
  • Lack of access to quality housing or affordable food
  • Lack of job skills
  • Inability to obtain and retain employment that provides basic economic security
  • Lack of financial management skills
  • Abuse and/or domestic violence
  • Involvement in illegal or gang-related activities
  • Addictions, and physical or mental health issues

Poverty is not only a condition faced by the unemployed. For many, low wages are the issue, especially for those making minimum wage.

$9.95 per hour is Alberta’s minimum wage (as of fall 2013), but it takes earning as much as $15 per hour to ensure you have the basic essentials for living.

The dramatic rise in food and housing costs over the past decade are five and seven times higher, respectively, than the increase in the overall median income for the Edmonton workforce.

For those who rely on income security programs, there is some relief. But considering how much the cost of living has increased over the years, this support can be spread very thin. For example, a single working mother with two children receives only $691 per month, while an individual receiving support from Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) receives just $1,588 per month – roughly equivalent to a full-time job at minimum wage.