Rich get richer and poor get poorer
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.
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.”
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.”