D- Alberta Report Cards

Section 1: Experience of Poverty

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
People Feeling Worse off Compared to Last Year
46.2%
D-
F
People Spending More than 30% of Income on Housing
44.9%
F
D+
People Having Trouble Accessing Health Care
20.8%
F
C-
Government Support Recipients Who Say Rates Are Insufficient to Keep Up with Cost of Living
47.2%
D-
D-
Percent of Income Spent on Fixed Costs beyond Housing
59.9%
D-
C+
Overall
D-
D

Section 2: Poverty Measures

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Poverty Rate (MBM)
9.7%
F
D
Provincial Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line (Singles)
32%
F
Provincial Disability Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line
37%
F
Unemployment Rate
6.3%
D-
D
Food Insecurity Rate
27.4%
F
F
Overall
F
D-

Section 3: Material Deprivation

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Inadequate Standard of Living
34.9%
D
F
Severely Inadequate Standard of Living
24.2%
D+
D-
Overall
D+
D-

Section 4: Legislative Progress

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Legislative Progress
F
C
Overall
F
C
×

Despite being the nation's wealthiest province, Alberta has not introduced investments that will sufficiently tackle the ongoing housing and affordability crisis. As such, the province has declined or stagnated in nearly all indicators this year.

Poverty Overview

Alberta is the richest province in Canada and has a poverty rate that closely matches the national average (9.7 per cent), but progress on poverty reduction has been far slower in the province than in the rest of the country. Census data suggests that between 2016 and 2021, poverty fell one-third slower in Alberta than the national average. This is likely because of the outsized importance of natural resource activity to the provincial economy, which often results in dramatic economic shifts in response to changes in global commodity prices. 

About one-quarter of Alberta’s population are children (under 18). The child poverty rate in Alberta is 9.4 per cent, which is slightly higher than the national average (8.5 per cent) and declined far slower in the province than elsewhere in the country between 2016 and 2021. Children represent 35 per cent of the food bank visitors in the province, which is disproportionately high. 

Youth (aged 18–24) represent 8 per cent of Alberta’s population, and their poverty rate was 13 per cent, which is similar to the rate for this group in Canada as a whole (14 per cent). 

Seniors in Alberta face similar age challenges to those faced by this demographic in other provinces. However, while the poverty rate for seniors (5.9%) is similar to the national rate (5.6%), seniors living alone in Alberta face a 17.7 per cent poverty rate, higher than the national rate of lone seniors, which is 13 per cent. 

People who live alone experience a higher rate of poverty (20.3 per cent) than other groups in Alberta, much as they do across the country. Lone parents have a poverty rate of 17.6 per cent, which is noticeably higher than the national rate for this group (14.4 per cent) and over three times the poverty rate among couples with children (4.5 per cent). 

Although poverty reduction in Alberta was slower for virtually every demographic compared to their counterparts on a national basis, the gap in progress between Alberta and Canada as a whole is widest among people who are living or parenting alone. Between 2015 and 2020, poverty reduction among both single parents and people living alone was 60 per cent less than for people living in couples, with a significant gender dimension.

This gap was most pronounced among single men. Poverty reduction among men living alone in Alberta was one-fifth that of the national average. Single-person households among youth and near-retirees (aged 55–64) were the most vulnerable to not seeing any gains in poverty reduction. This likely reflects the overall economic conditions between 2016 and 2021 and a corresponding lack of available resource jobs, which have traditionally helped to reduce income inequality by creating good middle-class jobs.

Labour and education

As of March 2024, the unemployment rate in Alberta was 6.3 per cent, which is slightly higher than for Canada as a whole (6.1 per cent). Meanwhile, the percentage of people who were participating in the workforce was also higher in Alberta—69.5 per cent compared to 65.3 per cent nationally. 

However, while Alberta remains ahead of the national average on employment rates, its leadership position has deteriorated significantly over the last decade. Between December 2014 and December 2023, labour force participation across Canada declined slightly (0.6%), mostly because of changes in demographic composition. In Alberta, the decline was more than five times that pace (−3.4 percentage points). Today, over 1 in 5 food bank visits in Alberta come from someone whose main income source is a job. This is one of the highest rates in the country, and it is growing more rapidly than rates for many other demographics. 

Youth aged 15–29 who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) are at particular risk of poverty. In 2022, 11 per cent of youth in Alberta were in this situation.

The cost of living and affordable housing
Between December 2022 and December 2023, the overall price of goods and services in Alberta increased by 3 per cent, which was slightly slower than in Canada as a whole (3.4 per cent). Increases in food costs also reflected the national trend rate.

Shelter, however, tells a more complicated story. While Alberta boasts some of the cheapest rental accommodations in the country, costs are rising faster in the province than elsewhere. The cost of shelter increased by 7.7 per cent in Alberta, year over year, in December, which is significantly higher than the rate for Canada as a whole (6 per cent). In addition, the 12.1 per cent increase in rent in Alberta was the second highest among the provinces (after Nova Scotia). Forecasts for 2024 suggest Alberta will see the fastest rent growth nationally.

The cost of owning a home increased by 7.8 per cent, which is a much greater increase than the national average (6.7 per cent) and reflects a greater vulnerability among Albertan households to fluctuating interest rates and mortgage costs.

As a result of these increased pressures, people in Alberta are looking for more ways to save. A staggering 93 per cent of people in the province say that reducing the cost of utilities is important to them. This is the highest rate in the country for this factor.

About 9.9 per cent of Albertans live in core housing need. Between 2018 and 2021, any decline in core housing need was concentrated among people in affordable housing units where rent costs are directly subsidized (reduced by 21.2 per cent, to about 1 in 4 renters) and homeowners who were not carrying their first mortgage (reduced by 42.3 per cent to 3 per cent). This speaks to an underlying polarization in housing costs, particularly among younger households and people who cannot afford to own a home but are unable to access an affordable housing unit.

The increase in housing costs and rents is likely a by-product of Alberta’s rapid population growth, combined with a deterioration in its ability to build fast enough. As Alberta’s population has continued to climb, the gap in housing starts needed to achieve affordability conditions has grown worse. The recent update to CMHC’s housing supply model forecasts 80,000 fewer housing units by 2030 compared to its 2022 forecast.

A lack of financial security is a major challenge for visitors to Alberta’s food banks. A recent survey among visitors to Edmonton food banks found that nearly half of them run out of money by the second week of the month, and almost none of them have any retirement savings or any other major form of financial asset on which to live.


Poverty and Inequality in Alberta

Despite Alberta’s reputation as an economic powerhouse, there are significant disparities in income and opportunity in the province. Indigenous populations, immigrants, and racialized people face higher poverty rates and more limited access to resources than other groups. 

Indigenous Albertans who are over 16 years old are more than twice as likely to have a low income as non-Indigenous Albertans (16.3 per cent compared to 7.5 per cent). The poverty rate among the Indigenous population in Alberta was 13.8 per cent in 2021, which is higher than the rate for this group in Canada as a whole (12 per cent). The poverty rate of 17.6 per cent among First Nations people in Alberta is also higher than the national rate (14 per cent). Métis in Alberta have a poverty rate of 10.5 per cent, slightly higher than the national rate (9.2 per cent) for Métis people. 

The rate of poverty among all racialized people in Alberta is 9.5 per cent, which is lower than the 2021 rate in Canada as a whole (12.1 per cent). In addition, poverty rates among immigrants, recent immigrants, and first-generation immigrants (born outside of Canada) are 7.9 per cent, 13.7 per cent, and 10.3 per cent respectively. Research has shown that immigrants to Alberta tend to be more economically resilient during economic shocks compared to similar cohorts in Vancouver and Toronto. This proved true during the commodities recession in 2016 and likely explains why poverty rates among these demographics, while higher than for non-racialized groups, are lower in Alberta than across Canada. 

Racialized households in Alberta are also significantly more likely to spend more than 50 per cent of their income on housing. The Canadian Rental Housing Index reports that Korean, Chinese, and West Asian households in Alberta are at least twice as likely to be in this situation as non-racialized households are.

Despite committing to a poverty reduction strategy a decade ago, Alberta has not made the effort required to meaningfully address the conditions that create poverty in the province. Its 2013 strategy aimed to eliminate child poverty within five years (from a rate of 17%), but the province adopted no formal target for overall poverty reduction. Successive provincial governments have taken only modest, and at times contradictory, policy steps to address this priority. This is reflected in the province’s comparatively slow decline in poverty since 2015. Despite its admirable and ambitious target to eliminate child poverty, the most recent data (2021) shows that the rate remains high at 7.5 per cent, which is above the national average of 6.4 per cent. Furthermore, the reduction that has been seen is attributable primarily to the impact of the federal Canada Child Benefit (CCB).

Although the province is the wealthiest in Canada, the level of income supports provided to its most vulnerable residents is among the lowest. For people who live alone, assistance rates are the third lowest in the country, although rates for people who rely on disability assistance or have children are middle of the pack compared to other provinces. However, Alberta’s disability assistance, AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped), has been criticized for being difficult to access.

Affordability has been a major concern for Albertans for some time. In the provincial election held last spring, the governing party made no commitments with respect to poverty reduction but did make a signature promise to provide approximately $1 billion per year in tax relief by establishing a new tax bracket of 8 per cent on the first $60,000 in income. The government has since delayed this commitment by about three years, arguing that it cannot afford to make this investment given current fiscal conditions.

In last year’s report we recommended that the provincial government use two key approaches to increase investments in affordable housing:

  • Expand rent supplement assistance so that it properly serves all Albertans in need in the rental market. This would reflect the actions of other provinces, including Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Manitoba.
  • Set an ambitious goal of dedicating 0.5 per cent of provincial expenditure each year for the construction of new affordable housing.

While the province has not implemented these recommendations to the extent we suggested, the recently tabled 2024 budget does dedicate a modest amount to go toward the construction of affordable housing: the province plans to invest an additional $254 million over three years to help build 3,300 units and complete an additional 1,800 currently under construction.

Alberta does not have a rental control guideline. A recent private member’s bill  that is currently before the provincial legislature proposes to institute a temporary rent increase cap and establish guidelines for rent increases going forward. However, the provincial government has said it does not support rent control, so progress on this bill will likely be limited.

In response to the affordability crisis, the province introduced indexation of provincial welfare incomes in 2023. While this is a much-welcomed step, it is not enough to cancel out the impact of significant inflation over the past few years. Alberta’s disability assistance, AISH, was deindexed in 2019. While reindexing it helped recipients cope to some extent with 2023’s inflation rates, it did not take into account inflation in the intervening years, which reached a high of 8 per cent in June 2022. The 2024 budget forecasts a flat-lining in provincial funding for employment and income support at $789 million, despite a significant uptick in demand through the end of the 2023 fiscal year.

Access to childcare continues to be a significant challenge for many families in Alberta. The Canadian Survey on Early Learning and Child Care found that nearly half (48%) of Alberta families with children aged 0-5 struggle to find affordable childcare, compared to the national average of 41%. While the province has committed to increasing access to and the affordability of spaces in line with the national early learning and childcare framework, it has hesitated to make additional investments to follow through on these commitments in light of inflation.

Accountability and planning

1. Introduce an updated provincial poverty reduction strategy with real targets.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

The lack of a comprehensive plan with clear goals and indicators in Alberta has stymied the ability of governments and stakeholder to work together with a common vision. If poverty reduction is to keep pace with rates in the rest of Canada, the provincial government must develop a strategy that will let it focus properly on the necessary investments in housing, income support, childcare, training, and job creation.

2. Develop a long-term infrastructure plan to meet the needs of a growing population, in line with the updated poverty reduction strategy.
PRC New Policy

Alberta is the fastest-growing province in Canada because the cost of living is lower than in many other parts of the country. Maintaining the balance of growth and affordability while continuing to reduce poverty will be difficult if population growth continues to outstrip the province’s ability to build affordable housing and community infrastructure.

Affordable Housing

3. Expand the Temporary Rent Assistance Benefit to all Albertans who are waiting for affordable housing
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

With approximately 24,000 Albertans currently waiting to be placed in subsidized affordable housing, the Temporary Rent Assist program should be expanded beyond people who have recently become unemployed to help prevent Albertans from falling further into poverty or becoming unhoused.

4. Establish a Housing Accelerator Fund with dedicated new funding of at least 0.5 per cent of the province’s annual operating and capital budgets.
PRC New Policy

The funding could be divided across multiple streams to provide a combination of supports to non-profit providers to acquire land and preserve existing rental stock, extend capital subsidies, and provide tax-related incentives to market developers to include a dedicated share of affordable units as part of new projects. Had the province followed our recommendation last year, there would now be close to $1 billion in additional funding available over the next three years.

5. Establish a permanent rent control guideline.
PRC New Policy

The funding could be divided across multiple streams to provide a combination of supports to non-profit providers to acquire land and preserve existing rental stock, extend capital subsidies, and provide tax-related incentives to market developers to include a dedicated share of affordable units as part of new projects.

Adequate Income Support

6. Transform the $600 affordability payment into a comprehensive Alberta Family Benefit that supports all working households earning less than $50,000
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

As part of its affordability plan, Alberta previously announced one-time payments of $600 to families with children and seniors earning less than $180,000. This plan excluded the poorest residents who are single. The government should make this payment permanent, but as part of a comprehensive earnings supplement for families earning up to twice the poverty line.

7. Increase Alberta’s income assistance to at least match 2019 levels and commit to future increases that will bring it in line with more generous provincial assistance plans.
In Progress
In Progress
In Progress

Last year, we recommended that Alberta index income assistance and increase rates by six per cent. While rates were not increased by six percent, they were indexed. For Albertans who are not permanently disabled, social assistance rates are among the least generous in Canada—less than 40 per cent of the poverty line for a single person living in Calgary. While the provincial government recently introduced indexation, it does not close the gap in purchasing power that emerged during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Decent Work that Pays

8. Raise the minimum wage to $17/hour and index it to inflation going forward
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Albertans have not seen an increase in the minimum wage since 2019, even as inflation has surged. BC recently increased its minimum wage to $16.75/hour. Albertans could benefit from a similar increase without jeopardizing jobs or competitiveness with regional employers in western Canada.

9. Introduce an Alberta Opportunities Award for Albertans on low incomes who are transitioning to pre-apprenticeship training
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

A job that pays a good, livable wage is one of the most sustainable ways to reduce poverty. Given the province’s stated objective in increasing opportunities in the skilled trades and reducing job vacancies, we recommend the provincial government introduce an Alberta Opportunities Award, which would reward Albertans with low incomes on social assistance who seek out pre-apprenticeship training and/or continue on to a full classroom-based training program. In recognition of this commitment, the province would provide a one-time award of up to six months of social assistance support, paid in two instalments, the first upon enrolment and the second after a period of continuous enrolment. This program could be funded in part by the Canada Alberta Job Grant.