Rich get richer and poor get poorer

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY DENISE PIKE

Twenty years af­ter the House of Com­mons voted to elim­i­nate child poverty in Canada, some 637,000 Cana­dian chil­dren are still liv­ing be­low the poverty line. Ac­cord­ing to the 2009 Re­port Card on Child and Fam­ily Poverty in Canada, re­leased by the Na­tional Aware­ness Group Cam­paign 2000 on Nov. 24, one in nine chil­dren in Canada lives in poverty, as op­posed to one in eleven in 1989.

The re­port card num­bers do not re­flect the shame­ful sit­u­a­tion of First Na­tion com­mu­ni­ties where one in four chil­dren are grow­ing up in poverty, or chil­dren of re­cent im­mi­grants and in racial­ized fam­i­lies.

Un­ac­cept­able poverty rates

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port low in­come, two-par­ent fam­i­lies need an ad­di­tional $9,400 a year to bring their in­come up to the poverty line.

The re­port also says Canada has an un­ac­cept­able child poverty rate when com­pared with other wealthy na­tions and that 40 per cent of the low-in­come chil­dren have at least one par­ent who works full-time all year.

“De­spite what anti-poverty ad­vo­cates call an un­prece­dented pe­riod of growth since 1998, there’s been a widen­ing gap be­tween fam­i­lies with

“It cost a lot more to live and em­ploy­ers just won’t pay more, mainly be­cause of the re­ces­sion I guess, which I think is just an ex­cuse.”

Kerri, Con­cep­tion Bay North

the high­est and low­est in­comes. Canada has failed to make ad­vances to al­le­vi­ate a prob­lem which af­fects one in nine chil­dren in this coun­try,” the re­port stated.

It also found that in 2008, while chil­dren un­der 18 made up 22 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, they repre- sented 37 per cent of food bank users.

Rec­om­men­da­tions in­cluded the need for bet­ter so­cial ser­vices, such as early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, a full child ben­e­fit in­creased to $5,400 from $3,416, af­ford­able hous­ing and a higher min­i­mum wage.

Pro­vin­cial plan

For the past six years Bri­tish Columbia’s child poverty rate has re­mained the high­est in Canada.

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by Statis­tics Canada the pro­por­tion of poor chil­dren in B.C. was at 18.8 per cent while the na­tional child poverty rate was 15 per cent.

Mean­while New­found­land and Labrador’s poverty rate (13.0 per cent) is among the low­est, be­hind only Al­berta (11.2 per­cent) and Prince Ed­ward Is­land (8.3 per cent).

How­ever in 2004, this prov­ince shared with BC the ig­no­min­ious dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing the high­est poverty rate in the coun­try. At that time as many as 24,000 (21.9 per­cent) of chil­dren were liv­ing well be­low the poverty line.

To ad­dress the is­sue gov­ern­ment adopted a Poverty Re­duc­tion Strat­egy Plan with leg­is­lated tar­gets and time­lines that in­cluded rais­ing the min­i­mum wage and in­dex­ing So­cial As­sis­tance rates to inflation rates.

Be­cause of th­ese ini­tia­tives New­found­land and Labrador no longer shares the top spot with BC in the poverty rank­ings. While many im­prove­ments have been made, Pene­lope Rowe, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer for the Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Coun­cil feels more can be done.

“ The per­cent­ages of chil­dren in this prov­ince liv­ing in house­holds be­low the low in­come cut­off in re­la­tion to other prov­inces has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly,” says Rowe. “ We are now among the three prov­inces with the low­est rates of child poverty and this is a good trend, a real im­prove­ment, but com­par­ing statis­tics of­ten masks the im­pact and depth of poverty and that con­cerns me. Many fam­i­lies and chil­dren are still liv­ing well be­low an ac­cept­able level, so we still have much to do. It’s un­ac­cept­able to have chil­dren liv­ing be­low the Low In­come cut­off Line.” Rowe says poverty iso­lates a child. “Liv­ing in strait­ened cir­cum­stances of­ten leads to chil­dren be­ing un­able to par­tic­i­pate in some school, sports, recre­ation or com­mu­nity ac­tiv­ity. It of­ten means in­ad­e­quate di­ets and greater risk of poor health,” she says.

To erad­i­cate poverty there needs to be a pol­icy shift among na­tional de­ci­sion mak­ers.

“ Tackling poverty re­quires many ini­tia­tives and can­not be dealt with through a sin­gle action,” says Rowe. “ Cam­paign 2000 is call­ing for an in­crease in the Na­tional Child Tax Ben­e­fit. This has al­ready been a ma­jor fac­tor in im­prov­ing the level of in­come for low-in­come fam­i­lies or those on as­sis­tance here in this prov­ince. Rais­ing the min­i­mum wage has also been help­ful for work­ing fam­i­lies. Other mea­sures such as in­creas­ing the avail­able sub­si­dized hous­ing units and en­hanced ac­cess to af­ford­able child care and early learn­ing are im­por­tant as well.”

Work­ing poor

De­spite all the ef­fort to wipe out poverty in Canada poor fam­i­lies keep get­ting poorer. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, fam­i­lies with chil­dren who fell into the five low­est in­come groups made no sig­nif­i­cant gains in their in­comes be­tween 1989 and 2007. In fact the ma­jor­ity of them ex­pe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline.

Kerri, her hus­band and three chil­dren are among th­ese fam­i­lies.

Statis­tics Canada de­fines the poverty line or low-in­come cut off for a sin­gle per­son liv­ing in a ma­jor city in 2007 as $21,666 (be­fore tax).

Kerri’s fam­ily an­nual in­come is $18,342.

“ We both work but it is sea­sonal, so we’re laid off for a good part of the year,” ex­plains Kerri. “Money has al­ways been very tight, but the last few years have been the worst. Ev­ery­thing ex­cept our wages has gone up. It cost a lot more to live and em­ploy­ers just won’t pay more, mainly be­cause of the re­ces­sion I guess, which I think is just an ex­cuse.”

The Con­cep­tion Bay cou­ple live in a mod­est three-bed­room house and drive an eight-year-old car, passed down by Kerri’s in laws.

“ They’re re­ally good to us. They help us out when­ever they can,” says Kerri. “My mother-in-law is a re­ally thrifty shop­per and is al­ways pick­ing up things that go on sale. I don’t know what we would do without them.”

Kerri says her fam­ily would be bet­ter off fi­nan­cially if they were on So­cial As­sis­tance, but she wants to in­stil a pos­i­tive work ethic in her three teenageers.

“ That’s im­por­tant to us,” she says. “ We do not want our kids think­ing gov­ern­ment hand­outs is the best and easy way out. How­ever some­times that view is a hard one to sell, es­pe­cially when there are peo­ple around us on So­cial As­sis­tance get­ting al­most the same amount of money given to them each month as we do by work­ing. On top of that they also get a drug card and that re­ally both­ers me be­cause we have to pay for all our own drugs. On the other hand we might not be mak­ing much, but we damn well earn ev­ery penny we work for. Hope­fully our kids won’t have to strug­gle fi­nan­cially like we’ve had to. If we have any­thing to do with it, they’ll have a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion, bet­ter jobs and end up bet­ter mak­ing more money than us. We’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to make sure their lives are a lot eas­ier and bet­ter than ours. “

Two of Kerri’s chil­dren, ages 15 and 17 have part-time jobs and the other is a Com­pass car­rier.

“It both­ers me that we can’t al­ways give them what they need and de­serve, but one thing is for sure, what they do have they ap­pre­ci­ate.”

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