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Editor's note: In Context is a new series designed to inform and educate you on Heifer's work in each country we have a presence. Every two weeks we'll tackle a different country and examine unique situations related to hunger and poverty, how Heifer works to address them as well as take some time to explore local culture and traditions.

Photo by Darcy Kiefel, courtesy of Heifer International

Canada has seen some noticeable economic improvements in thelast ten years; however:

  • 1 in 10 Canadians live in poverty
  • 1 in 3 Canadian adults that work full-time do not makeenough money to sustain themselves and their families with a healthy lifestyle

Canada measures poverty in relative terms and does not havean official poverty line. Canadian poverty statistics are calculated byCanada’s Low Income Cut-Offs (LICOs), which is calculated by comparing thepercentage of income individuals and families spend on basic needs with otherCanadians.

Many blame unemployment as the “big, bad” reason for povertyin Canada and other developed countries, but that’s not always the case. As amatter of fact, the Canadian unemployment rate is in decline. An overlooked andunderlying factor of poverty in many of the world’s wealthy, industrializedcountries is income inequality, which is the extent to which income is unevenly distributed in one country.

In 2008, for everydollar the average Canadian family in the poorest 10% of the population had, Canadianfamilies in the richest 10% of the population had 13 times as much.

When income inequality in a country is high, it reflects onhow a country uses its resources. The higher the income inequality in acountry, the slower the economic growth, usually begging the question: “Is thecountry utilizing its citizenship’s skills and capabilities to the fullestextent?”

Measured by the Gini Index (which calculates how far incomedistribution among individuals in a country deviates from an exactly equaldistribution), income inequality in Canada has increased more over the last 20years than in any other country with similar income per capita.

Nearly 400,000 full-time, Canadian adult employees earn lessthan $10 an hour, drawing them and their families deeper into the cycle ofpoverty. And with poverty comes poor health— The World Health Organizationhas named poverty as being the single largest determinant of health.
  • The majority of theworking-poor cannot afford secure and affordable housing and healthy (or inmany instances an adequate amount of) food
  • Parents on limitedincome often skip meals so their children have an adequate diet
  • Limited food budgetsand lack of access to fresh food often results in Type 2 diabetes—which wasformerly seen in adults only, but is now increasing in children

And perhaps one of the scarier statistics to surface:

  • According to a studyconducted by McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, there is a 21-yeardifference in life expectancy between the poorest neighborhood and thewealthiest neighborhood

Research by Poverty is Making Us Sick show that if annualincome were increased by $1,000 a year to the poorest 20% of Canadians, it wouldlead to as many as 10,000 fewer chronic conditions and 6,600 fewer disabilitydays every two weeks.

So, while poverty in Canada doesn’t look like poverty inunindustrialized nations, it exists nonetheless. The difficult decisions familiesmust make (pay rent or buy food) are the same, contributing to a decline inquality of life and degrading the emotional and physical health of a nation.

Photo by Darcy Kiefel courtesy of Heifer International

You can help make a difference and learn more about howHeifer Canada is helping at


Falguni Vyas

Falguni (sounds like "balcony") Vyas is from Atlanta, Georgia and began working with Heifer International in Little Rock as a copywriter in 2011. She received her master's degree at Istituto Marangoni in Milan, Italy and her bachelor's degree at Franklin College Switzerland in Lugano, Switzerland. She does not like writing about herself in the third person.