By Andrew Coyne - Tuesday, December 8, 2009 - 46 Comments
COYNE: We need a measure of poverty that tells us if we’re making progress against it
Introducing his famous motion in Parliament committing the government of Canada to abolish child poverty by the year 2000, NDP leader Ed Broadbent conjured a Dickensian vision of Canada. “Being a poor kid means box lunches from food banks and soup from soup kitchens. Mr. Speaker, to be a poor kid means trying to read or write or think on an empty stomach . . . One quarter of our children are wasting away.” The motion passed, unanimously.
That was on Nov. 24, 1989. Twenty years later, writing in the Globe and Mail, Broadbent found little improvement. “Canada’s level of poverty is virtually unchanged . . . After two decades, the child-poverty rate has dropped a mere two percentage points, to 9.5 per cent. Why do more than 600,000 Canadian kids wake up hungry and go to school trying to read, write and think on an empty stomach?”
The answer is: they don’t. More than 600,000 Canadian kids are not waking up hungry today, any more than one quarter of Canadian children were “wasting away” 20 years ago. What Broadbent means by poverty is clear from his rhetoric: a state of absolute privation—hunger, an empty stomach, wasting away. But the numbers he cites are all based on relative measures: that is, how many children were less well-off than other children. Continue…