(62) Poverty in Canada [Book review]

Today in Canada is Thanksgiving Day.  Jour de l’Action de grâce has been a national holiday since 1957.  What better spot on the calendar could we pick to review the second edition of Poverty In Canada: Implications for Health & Quality of Life by York University professor Dennis Raphael?

From first encounter this work comes across well.  The second edition clears 500 pages in trade paperback form and continues the fact-jammed academic dissection of poverty in the first edition, with extras.  Of course, there are tables and charts and analysis with references, index and suggestions for web resources and further reading all in the right places.  Plentiful ammunition for journalists, academics, policy makers and public servants to use against ignorance of poverty and hopefully poverty itself.  Students should find this book useful in many fields.

Poverty in Canada is too frequent, too consistent, too often racialized, too hard on too many children, too deep, too little studied, too (literally) sickening, too often not acknowledged at all, too often blamed on the individual affected by it, too closely linked to deliberately chosen neo-conservative economic policies, and too readily reduced or eliminated by quite reasonable efforts and means.  Again and again in this book Canada is seen to fare better than the United States but significantly worse than the Scandinavian countries when it comes to poverty.  Considering the size and economic output of this country our poverty has to be some of the craziest shit in the developed world.  If you are remotely interested in this topic you will find something of disturbing value in Raphael’s work.

Lived experience of poverty has been given more profile in the new edition.  This is sensible.  Elaborating the real thing is humane and complements the statistical approach.

Curiously, there is no specific mention of suburban poverty.  When we purchased Poverty In Canada we expected to find some direct mention of the phenomenon since the Brookings Institution has done a lot to make it a mainstream issue south of the border.  Additionally, we can claim to have directly observed suburban poverty in Canada through social service sector study and volunteering and through living in the suburbs.  In its own modest, amateur way this blog has begun to register and aggregate information about Canadian suburban poverty so we are surprised that a big gun academic like Raphael approaches it indirectly, hasn’t chosen to name it.  Some of this may have to do with the domestic statistical sources he uses and with the fact that the definitions of suburban and urban remains somewhat vague at times for many of us.

Ultimately, all poverty is a disaster and the labels attached to it are less important than the realities of it.  Nonetheless, the experience of poverty changes over time and suburbs are a new frontier of problematic social conditions in Canada.

Seriously, buy and read this book.  Mail a copy to your political representative.  Put it on your students’ reading lists if you are a teacher.  It’s available online and through most book stores.