Poverty is a more complex concept than it seems. Young people who live in precarious situations will have difficulty breaking out of this impasse; contrary to popular belief, willpower has little effect on poverty. As a number of youth currently live in precarious conditions, it is interesting to better understand their situation.

What is poverty among youth?

There is no single definition of poverty that is accepted by all countries in the world. A person's poverty status is determined according to different situations in different countries. But most often, governments base it off the income or purchasing power of individuals.

What is the difference between income and purchasing power?

Income is the money that a person receives as remuneration for his or her work and money earned on capital. The money earned on capital corresponds to gains on financial or real estate investments for example.

Purchasing power, on the other hand, corresponds to the volume of goods and services that a specific income can buy. That is, with the same amount of money, it was not possible to buy the same quantity of goods in 1950 as in 2020. And it even happens sometimes that if the income increases, the purchasing power still decreases.

In Canada, a person is considered to be living in poverty when his or her net income (income after taxes) is less than half the Canadian median income. The Canadian median income is calculated every year and is available on the Statistics Canada website.

Poverty affects the youngest people first. Indeed, children and young people are the segment of the population most affected by poverty. They are also the most vulnerable in times of economic crisis.

Why are some youth poor?

First of all, in order to fight against prejudice, it is important to recall some of the results of studies concerning poverty among young people. In most cases, young people find themselves in a precarious situation because of their social background. In other words, young people are poor above all because they were possibly born into poor backgrounds or are young working people with few qualifications.

In addition, there are other factors that keep young people in poverty:

  • The increase in housing prices: rent becomes more expensive every year. And this increase is not progressive. It is influenced by real estate market prices that fluctuate.
  • The rise in the rate of inflation, which is a general and lasting increase in prices. In times of economic crisis, this price increase can be significant.
  • Student debt: the cost of education forces many young people to take out student loans. The cost of higher education is also a barrier to accessing university and higher studies.
  • The instability of part-time, side jobs or contractual labor: unskilled work, student jobs, summer jobs, etc. These are often precarious jobs. They are among the first jobs to be threatened in the event of an economic crisis, or simply in the event of internal changes in companies.

What are the effects of poverty on youth?

The effects are numerous, both physical and psychological. As we have seen, most youth in precarious situations have often experienced poverty in their childhood. And whether one is a child, a teenager or a young worker, poverty leads to health problems, marginalization, lowered self-esteem and sometimes depression.

Effects on overall health

Several studies show that a family's income level has an influence on the health status of the children when they reach adulthood. In adulthood, too, the lack of a varied and balanced diet influences overall health status. In addition, young people who face poverty will have more difficulty accessing health care. It is important to note that these factors are cumulative and have a very long-term effect.


Poverty often leads to exclusion, because social activities are not free. It is difficult to go out for sports activities or to meet friends when the budget is tight. Sports equipment, cultural activities, cafes, restaurants are not part of the basic necessities. This situation has repercussions on self-esteem. It becomes difficult for young people to meet friends, romantic partners and make plans. These elements can end up isolating and marginalizing youth.

Effects on mental health

According to Statistics Canada, income continues to play a role in the mental health of youth. They are more likely to report poor mental health and to have suicidal thoughts. Factors that may contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts are complex and different for everyone. However, there is a link between the number of risk factors and the effects on mental health. Also, poverty among youth exposes them to numerous issues that can accumulate. As we have just seen, these include physical health, self-esteem, exclusion, isolation, and difficulty planning for the future.

If you or someone you know is experiencing poverty, talk about it. Poverty is a complex phenomenon with many causes and repercussions, but it does not have to be inevitable. Understanding its mechanisms is the first step in the fight against prejudice and exclusion.

It is also important to surround yourself with others and to seek out resources, because it is very difficult to get out of poverty alone. There are organizations and youth associations that can give you a list of resources available near you.

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