The statistics are shocking. The child poverty rate in Canada is 14%, the child poverty rate in BC is 20% and the child poverty rate on Vancouver Island is 21% and in the central Island, nearly 23%. A 2009 study by CPABC found that poverty in BC costs society between $8.1 and $9.2 billion a year—or between 4.1 and 4.7 percent of the provincial economy (as measured by GDP) in costs to the health care and justice systems, and in foregone economic activity.
Poverty in our society is systemic and generational. It is no surprise that children impacted by the multi-dimensions of poverty have limited access to basic physical, mental and emotional development necessary to lead healthy, productive lives. These deficiencies are cyclical—preventing generations from leading fulfilling lives and contributing to the vitality of our communities and economy.
For too long, the issue of poverty has been relegated to the silo of social services where it cannot be adequately viewed in context with culture and economy. The implications—troublesome if not addressed or exciting if embraced—are enormous. Are we smart enough to find solutions? Are we daring enough to risk failure? Are we sufficiently visionary to collaborate?
Business people are taught to secure their local markets before casting further afield for customers. If you can’t find consumers for your products and services in your own back yard, how can you expect to appeal to those in your competitor’s back yards? Might this also apply to optimizing engagement of home-grown human resources?
For perspective, right here on Vancouver Island, the 21% of our youth currently living in poverty—the present and future generations of home grown human resources—are failing and are unlikely to find their ways to contributing in any substantial way to our regional social and economic prosperity. Instead of living a life of opportunity and potential, these thousands of children—our children—are a socio-economic liability. These children, and their children, will most likely not find gainful employment, will not become community volunteers and will not be buying homes or accessing professional services. Further to this socio-economic drain, and the lost opportunity because of the minimal participation of this marginalized group in our economy, businesses struggle to find the skilled employees they need to properly operate or expand their businesses. We have a mismatch of supply and demand. We need a new generation of contributing employees to support a prosperous economy and a potential solution—the 21% living in poverty— lies idle. The constrained growth of individual businesses resulting from this
unfulfilled need for skilled labour has a negative multiplicative effect on our overall economy. Constrained companies require fewer resources from their suppliers and value-chain partners, productivity is curtailed and rewarding employment opportunities are diminished. It is a vicious cycle.
It is time to recognize that these children important to our future—our most valuable renewable resource. They do not want to live in poverty. They would rather participate in our workforce and contribute to society. If we simply accept this 21% as ‘the way it is’, we ignore this utter waste of human resources and we miss a substantial opportunity to develop a new generation of skilled labour—people who already call Vancouver Island ‘home’, while we cast around the globe looking to attract people to our work force.
What will we do?
Join our expert panel as they explore solutions at the 11th annual ‘State of the Island’ Economic Summit in Nanaimo, October 25/26.