Living in the wealthiest neighbourhood on the planet has its advantages.
Canadians spend more time counting the blessings than cursing the shadows of their proximity to America and Americans.
With Canada’s child poverty disgrace much in the news in recent days, we’re reminded of our most cherished American association. We’re not them. We allow ourselves the quiet delusion that we are a more compassionate, just nation than our southern neighbour.
In nation-to-nation comparisons we are, but Americans and Canadians are relatively equal when it comes to most private philanthropic measures.
Canadians invite statistical comparisons with the United States because those comparisons are comforting to all but the millions of people on either side of the 49th parallel who haven’t got enough food to feed their kids. The numbers are utterly meaningless to them.
The OECD – Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – keeps all manner of data for Canadians to parse and feel morally superior to their southern neighbours.
Obviously, when it comes to income and wealth inequality, America is a handy bad example. Canada falls in the middle of the OECD pack in income misdistribution, while in the land of legendary avarice just below us on the map there are only a few oligopolies to leap – South Africa, Costa Rica, Turkey – and claim top spot in the race to concentrate the greatest wealth in the fewest hands. Russia is not an OECD member.
As for the topic at hand, while 17 per cent of Canadian kids are growing up in poverty, at least we’re not in the United States where the number is almost 21 per cent, according to OECD statisticians.
The same is true of poverty in general. A little more than 14 per cent of Canadians are impoverished, while the U.S. equivalent is inching very near 18 per cent. And, we’re much kinder and gentler to our old folks than the Americans, right? Yes, we are. One in 10 Canadians over the age of 65 is sub-subsisting, while more than one in five elderly Americans find themselves in that intolerable circumstance.
And up here the government is just days away from unveiling a poverty reduction strategy that was promised three years ago. The thing will apparently measure the heck out of poverty and might even take a crack at doing sometime to make a few of the statistical representations of misery slightly less appalling.
The grey of hair and long of tooth will recall that America declared outright war on poverty back in the 1960s, but unfortunately got too distracted by the other war it was losing in Vietnam to put up much of a fight for the least among the plenty.
There is an inconvenient reality that comes with national comparisons. As much as Canadians would like to judge themselves against Americans and be done with it, there is a big developed world out there, and our self-image as world beaters in caring takes a beating when we expand the search.
The fact is Canada finds itself among some disheartening national company with similar child poverty rates. We are doing a little better than Italy and Greece, but not as well as 24 of the OECD’s 34 members.
It would likely come as a surprise, if not a shock, to most Canadians that their nation has more impoverished children per capita than Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia, and we can only dream of someday matching Denmark, Finland, Norway or Sweden, all of whom have child poverty rates under 10 per cent.
The Trudeau Liberals poverty reduction strategy will be applauded by some, panned by others and largely ignored by all too many. Certainly, those living in poverty are too busy trying to survive to pay it much heed.
Maybe the federal government will set its sights high and try to match the child poverty rates of Ireland, or France or the Czech Republic. Korea’s seven per cent is out-of-reach, but we could start by trying to at least match the remnants of the old Soviet Union.
One thing’s for certain, when you live in a wealthy neighbourhood. You know when you’re poor.
Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.