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Vibrant Communities Calgary goes Beneath the Surface well being in the city

In their latest report on the state of the city, Vibrant Communities Calgary is urging readers to go beyond the simple metrics to draw deeper conclusions about poverty and income, health and education, and childcare and transportation.

Released on March 7, Beneath the Surface—the layers of poverty in Calgary, aims to provide decision makers and every day Calgarians a more holistic approach to broad and complex social issues in the city.

“I think that reducing poverty involves community, creating a healthy city where poverty can’t exist,” said lead report author Lee Stevens with Vibrant Communities Calgary.

Part of that community building comes from having a better sense of where the community is at. For VCC, that means moving beyond single indicators of poverty or wealth like GDP or employment rates.

“We do tend to overuse and that’s GDP, we tend to use GDP as a measure of success, and one of the points of this report is we need to start using quality of life metrics,” Stevens said.

Stevens spoke about how an indicator like employment rates may be up, but the examination that VCC performed for the report showed that the types of jobs Calgarians were getting were declining in quality.

“Labor force data surveys show that the majority of Calgary’s job gains are in the low-wage sectors such as wholesale and retail,” she said.

“We have 41,000 people in Calgary considered the working poor, and this number includes those earning less than the low-income measure.”

Other employment-related metrics findings in the report include 20 per cent of Calgary seniors are still in the labour force to make ends meet. Further, despite overall declines in poverty percentage numbers, people from visible minorities and underrepresented communities have continued to report above-average rates of poverty.

Inflationary pressure having an effect on Calgarians

Among the other findings in the report, the living wage in Calgary rose from $18.60 in 2021, to $22.40 per hour in 2022: an increase of $3.80. Something VCC said was due in small part to the way the living wage was calculated, but in large part due to the high rates of inflation in the nation.

Stevens said that they supplemented the data sources available to look at the issues surrounding inflation with interviews of Calgarians, and the quality of life survey performed by the Calgary Foundation.

“Home ownership was one question that people were asked in that survey, and fewer people can afford to own a home or even rent than one compared to last year,” she said.

“That’s one impact of inflation that we’re seeing, and then 21 per cent of Calgarians can’t afford healthy food was another metric that we that we discovered.”

On the topic of housing, 81,240 households—or about 18 per cent of all Calgary households—need affordable housing. Rental rates for Calgary were also rising faster, and higher, than the Canadian average.

In addition to the 21 per cent of Calgarians being unable to afford healthy food, 12 per cent of Calgary households are experiencing some form of food insecurity.

“The majority of my money, almost all my money, is going to food,” was one quote provided in the report from an interviewee.

Mixed issues with childcare, education, and transportation identified

Stevens also acknowledged the difficulty in gathering high-quality data, and answering commonly held questions like whether children are ready for school post-pandemic.

“We actually don’t know that because we don’t track that,” she said.

“There was a study done in 2014, that found that a higher percentage of Alberta kids are not meeting their developmental milestones when you compare that to the Canadian average. So kids could be doing better, they could be doing worse, we don’t know.”

What researchers were able to look at included childcare costs, and access to childcare services. What they found was that childcare costs made up 40 per cent of a second earner’s net income, while a family with two children would spend 70 per cent.

The lowest income families in Calgary put 23 per cent of their total income towards child care. From the 2022 Quality of Life Report cited, just 67 per cent of Calgarians have access to affordable childcare services.

Some of the successes identified in the report are in the areas of transportation.

“Calgary has the most affordable low-income transit pass in the country… almost everyone who qualifies is getting it, so that’s a wonderful thing,” Stevens said.

The number of Calgarians receiving the low-income transit passes has been on the rise, with the report stating that more Calgarians have been able to use transit “to get to jobs, attend medical appointments, run errands, and socialize—all important aspects of community resilience and wellbeing.”

The distance people have to travel to access transit remains an issue in Calgary, said Stevens.

“There are lots of people who live on the outskirts of our city that do not have access to transit. So that’s a problem that needs to be improved.”

Report a year in the making, with a lot of support

The report was co-authored by Derek Cook, Rita Diaz and Laura Nauta with the Canadian Poverty Institute; Sarelle Azuelos and Tessa Penich with Vibrant Communities Calgary; Vandad Sharifi with the University of Calgary, and Marshal McCallum with Mount Royal University.

Beneath the Surface took about a year’s worth of work to put together, with a number of in-depth consultations to find the right metrics to use throughout.

She summed it up as the need to start measuring what matters.

One example, said Stevens, was which measure of income inequality to use.

A full listing of the steering committee members, who she said were also involved in measuring what matters, are available in the report.

“We had three different metrics to measure income inequality, and we had to land on one. And we had a few different measures to measure housing need, and we had to land on one.”

“When we say measuring what matters, It’s measuring the quality of life and not just being so reliant on our economic indicators.”

The Beneath the Surface report can be downloaded from Vibrant Communities Calgary at enoughforall.ca/resources/community-wellbeing.