Calgary the second most unequal city in Canada: report

Calgary is the second most unequal city in Canada, a new report by Vibrant Communities Calgary suggests.

The 2022 community well-being report, which was published on Tuesday, aims to identify and analyze important metrics for well-being and poverty reduction in Calgary last year. These include employment, housing, income, food security, transportation, health, community belonging, early learning and care, and literacy and education.

“This isn’t new … We’ve had that title for a long time now,” said Lee Stevens, policy and research specialist for Vibrant Communities Calgary.

“Calgary is a city where we have really high incomes and then we have a lot of people that are falling behind.”

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According to the report, employment rates in Calgary continue to climb while income has decreased between 2015 and 2020, making it the second most unequal city in the country.

People from equity-deserving communities — visible minorities, Indigenous people and recent immigrants — continued to report above-average rates of poverty in the city.

Researchers also highlighted an increase in the poverty rate among young adults aged 18 to 24, the only age group to report an increase.

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“That kind of surprises us,” Stevens said.

“Employment is up but wages are actually down and the majority of Calgarians are employed in the service and retail sectors.

“Even if you’re working, it doesn’t mean you’re making ends meet.”

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Read more: 3.2M Canadians, including over 560,000 children, living in poverty: Stats Canada

Housing in Calgary is higher than the national average

Housing costs also continue to climb as rents in Calgary remain higher than the national average. The median monthly rent in Calgary is around $1,324 according to the 2021 census, 26.1 per cent higher than the Canadian median.

Data from the Alberta government showed the average rent of a two-bedroom unit in Calgary rose by eight per cent in 2021. However, recent data from online rent platforms like RentFaster and Zumper showed year-over-year increases for two-bedroom units in the range of 18 per cent to 30 per cent, the report said.

Around 18 per cent of Calgary households need affordable housing and the City of Calgary estimates the need will exceed 100,000 households in 2026.

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Many of those interviewed for the report said they didn’t have much choice when it comes to where they lived because of their low income.

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“I struggle with the notion that Calgary is affordable because it’s affordable for who?” Stevens asked.

“Sure, housing might be slightly less expensive than Vancouver and Toronto, but it’s not really a goal we should be aspiring to.”

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Calgarians spend majority of their money on food

Many Calgarians run into barriers trying to access healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food in the city.

According to the report, almost 12 per cent of households were marginally, moderately or severely food insecure.

Marginal food insecurity is when a person worries about running out of food or has a limited food selection due to a lack of money. Moderate food insecurity is when food quality and quantity are compromised due to a lack of money.

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Around 21 per cent of Calgarians can’t afford healthy food, the report added.

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Access to fresh food and meat was raised as a specific concern, and many research participants had to change their diets because of rising food prices.

More and more Calgarians are also relying on the food bank: more than 112,000 hampers went out to Calgarian households according to the Calgary Food Bank’s 2021-2022 report.

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“A lot of people using the food bank have jobs as well. They do work and we need to remember that everyone is affected by (the cost of living crisis),” Stevens said.

“We want to get to a place where it doesn’t matter what your income is, you still have an opportunity to be healthy and get a well-paying job.”

Physical health on a decline in Calgary

The report found that many Calgarians are unable to access health-care services to meet their physical, mental and social needs.

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In 2021, 85 per cent of Calgarians rated their general health as “excellent” or “very good.”

In 2022, however, that number is around 57 per cent.

Dr. Eddy Lang, the University of Calgary’s emergency medicine department head, attributed the decline to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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There is evidence to suggest that a lot of people gained weight because of disrupted workout schedules and the inability to access gyms and community fitness centres.

There has also been an increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic, he said. An increasing number of younger people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer in Canada and the United States, and alcohol consumption is a contributing factor.

“It’s not surprising … It will take us a while to get back to where we were after the effects of the pandemic on people’s general health,” Lang told QR Calgary.

“I think we’re in a recovery from the pandemic but it’s not like switching on a light where things go back to normal overnight.”

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There was also a general decline in overall mental health in Calgary.

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Around 54 per cent rated their mental health as good or excellent. The report noted that only 67 per cent of Calgarians believe they have timely access to mental health services.

Dr. Keith Dobson, a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Calgary, said mental health concerns like depression and anxiety increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The unpredictability of a global health emergency was a major contributing factor, he said.

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However, Dobson said the decline in mental health is because of socioeconomic factors such as job insecurity, cost of living increases and economic uncertainty, not because of the pandemic.

“We’re seeing people become more anxious and having more mental health concerns because of these issues,” he said.

“Rates of anxiety and depression also went up in youth … The highest rates of increase were in young adults in particular, people who are trying to establish themselves economically.”

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Some Calgarians noted that it was difficult to find affordable mental health support in the city, the report said. While some clinics offer sliding scale rates based on someone’s income, many therapists and counselors in Calgary charge between $100 to $200 an hour.

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This is especially a problem for those from equity-deserving communities.

“Access to mental health services has been recognized as a chronic problem in Canadian health systems for a long time,” the professor emeritus said.

“We saw an increase in the need for mental health services during the pandemic, and we’ve seen some response.

“If we go back in history, there was a real pushback in the 1990s for community mental health services, but the funding never really caught the need even back then. We’re now living the consequences of that issue.”

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