Five facts we learned about low-income living from the Poverty Snapshot

As stewards of the City of Calgary’s poverty reduction strategy Enough for All, Vibrant Communities Calgary takes a thoughtful approach to ending poverty by studying and addressing its root causes.

In June 2018, Vibrant Communities Calgary’s Policy Strategist Janet Eremenko published an extensive report called Poverty in Calgary: A picture of the incidence and experience of low income in Calgary and area.

These are a selection of things we learned from reading this report about who is affected by low income, and how it affects them:

  1. Families on low income: Many Calgary parents are familiar with the staggering costs of childcare in our city – which in 2017 was averaging $1,000 to $1,250/month in fees alone. It’s a double-edged sword for working parents on low income.

Thankfully, some government supports are available. Childcare subsidies for full-time daycare ($546/month max) and family day homes ($437/month max) are in place for Calgary families, in addition to the province’s new Early Learning Centres initiative where childcare only costs $25/day. Used in tandem, a family on low income may possibly be able to provide necessary quality daytime care for their children without sacrificing their earnings.


  1. Indigenous representation: Indigenous peoples in the Calgary area are more likely to live on low income, however the 2015 census data shows an interestingly low representation of Indigenous peoples in the overall low-income population. The report explains that this data may not be correct due to “multigenerational and transient households, migration to and from reserve, hidden homelessness and mistrust of colonial research methods” resulting in low census participation rates.

The legacies of colonization and the residential school system and 60’s Scoop are deeply embedded in the fabric of Indigenous communities,” Eremenko writes. “Sadly, these legacies continue to be evidenced in the dramatically higher rates of Indigenous peoples in federal and provincial institutional systems.”


  1. Disabled persons: In 2014, a study showed one in five Calgarians were living with a physical and/or developmental disability, and of that, 23% were living on low income. Those with developmental disabilities were especially vulnerable, with lower median incomes and lower rates of post-secondary education or employment.

For 54,801 Albertans living on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) – guaranteed government income for those with permanent medical conditions that prevent them from working – their base income is $1,588/month, which amounts to approximately $19,000/year – well below the low-income measurement for a single individual.


  1. Gender: According to the report, female Calgarians were subject to a slight to significant increase in the incidence of low income after the age of 18. The highest rate was at age 75+, when 11.4% of women in 2015 were living on low income, compared to 8% in the male population of that age. The report cites this great disparity may be due to life expectancy and the “cumulative impact of women earning less than men in their early working years.” With the aging population, these numbers are expected to rise.


  1. Conflicting definitions: One of the first points made in the report is the stark difference and confusing inconsistencies between the two existing tools of measurement for low-income status in Calgary – Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) and Low Income Measure (LIM). For example, a family of four’s after-tax income was considered low at $38,544/year for LICO, but LIM measured significantly higher at $44,704/year.


“The Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy, the launch of which is imminent at the time of writing, is said to include a recommendation of a single measure for low income,” Eremenko writes in the report. “Establishing a single ‘poverty line’ would be instrumental in creating alignment across initiatives, municipalities and provinces and territories.”

“The imminent policy recommendations and refreshed Enough for All strategy will expand this understanding with the experiences of poverty; how to address not only income but the value of social participation, purpose and self-authorization,” Eremenko writes.

“The individuals living in poverty have stories to tell from which policy-makers, service providers and communities can learn.”

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