Most poverty studies focus largely on statistics to make their arguments. While this method has merit, especially when speaking with policymakers, such quantitative efforts also tend to lose the human element in what is fundamentally a human problem. Wendy MacDermott, in her report Child Poverty in Canada, Saskatchewan, and Saskatoon: A Literature Review and the Voices of the People, addresses this deficiency in the literature by presenting the issue in the words and experiences of those in the underclass. “The goal of qualitative research,” she writes, “is to provide clarity, depth, and detail to cold statistics” (p.1).
MacDermott conducted interviews with parents to discuss the difficulties of raising children while living in poverty. Many parents spoke with frustration about their inability to provide their children with healthy food or new clothes. This frustration is compounded when their children compare their lack of toys or second-hand clothes with that of better-off friends. Likewise, parents found that having little or no disposable income limited their children’s school experiences because they often could not afford to pay for extracurricular activities, meaning that they regularly had to look for “free” forms of recreation for their children, such as watching television. Even some free activities, like city swimming pools, contain hidden costs, such as transportation or buying snacks at the pool canteen. Parents recognized that organized sports or musical lessons would be beneficial for their children’s development, but money issues make that an impossibility.
Raising children in poverty also creates considerable insecurity and anxiety. For example, the costs of either owning a car or even using public transportation is a significant obstacle for many. Emergencies, such as a sick child needing to go to the hospital, become all the more terrifying. Likewise, living in poor and rundown neighbourhoods and houses that are unsafe and dangerous for their children increase anxiety and health problems.
Parents believed that more support was necessary in the form of greater community leadership to advocate for the underclass, occasional time off from work for mothers, and increases in the Social Assistance allowance. So many of these problems, these parents argued, could be remedied by a little more money and time to be with their children. Parents also felt that the City of Saskatoon needs to do a better job of picking up garbage, managing abandoned houses, and policing neighbourhoods for drugs and prostitution.
Several interviewed youths felt that living in poverty meant, more than anything else, limited opportunities, be it education, recreational, or social activities. Growing up poor was a stigma that made children feel ashamed, “like I was missing out on a whole other part of life and the world” (p.39).
The effects of living in poverty has an undeniable effect in physical, material, and psychological terms, something confirmed by parents and children alike. MacDermott concludes her study with thirtysix recommendations for alleviating the effects of poverty, from issues of safety and transportation to housing and leisure services.