Poor outlook for kids’ future: Child poverty down, but recession still hurting

For the first time in seven years, British Columbia does not have the top spot on the Child Poverty Report Card. According to the report, the percentage of B.C. children living in poverty fell to 14.5 per cent from 18.8, making it the fourth-lowest family poverty rate in the country.

 

But it’s still above the federal average of 14.2 per cent and these numbers, despite being included in the 2010 Report Card, are actually from 2008—before the recession affected B.C.

 

“We’ve had a two-digit child poverty percentage for 20 years. It goes up and down a bit as the economy goes up and down a bit, but there are structural things that we need to do to better support families,” said Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, at the Report Card’s release on November 24.

 

Released annually by First Call, Campaign 2000 and the Social Planning and Research Council of BC, the report found approximately 121,000 children in the province live in poverty, and the younger they are, the higher the poverty rate: 19.6 per cent of children six and under live below the poverty line.

 

As in previous years, the majority of kids in poverty have two-parent families, but single moms continue to experience a higher risk of poverty: 30.9 per cent compared to 12.2 per cent for two-parent families. Aboriginal, immigrant and visible minority families also continue to be disproportionately represented below the poverty line.

 

Reyna Izaguirre is both a refugee and a single mom. Originally from Honduras, Izaguirre immigrated to Canada three years ago with her two young sons. She spoke at the release about how she has been unable to find work for herself or childcare for her youngest child, who is high functioning autistic.

 

“Sometimes I have to collect bottles to get some extra money to cover my budget. I have to attend programs and other kinds of things to get bus tickets, because I cannot afford to do that with the money that I have,” said Izaguirre, welling up with tears.

 

“I think people have to live with dignity, and part of dignity is to get a job and have good childcare for our kids, and being able to pay for the childcare.”

 

The Izaguirre family is not alone—the number of families on welfare in the province increased to 37,28  in August 2010 from 28,958 in 2008. But working families are not immune to poverty, either. In 2008, 38.5 per cent of families with one full-time, full-year worker lived below the poverty line, while over 182,400 people in the province earned a wage of less than $10 an hour.

 

Like previous reports, the 2010 Report Card calls on the provincial government to create a poverty reduction plan including: increasing the minimum wage to $11 by June 2012, paying workers a living wage and increasing the welfare rate to the after-tax poverty line and indexing it annually to the cost of living.

 

But in an emailed statement, the Ministry of Children and Family Development claims the province already has a strategy, and the report proves it’s working.

 

“Our approaches are cross-government and include targeted investments in: affordable housing, reduced (medical services plan) premiums, rental supplements, child care support and one of the lowest provincial tax rates in Canada,” reads the statement.

 

“Putting a label on a plan does not in itself ensure success. Ontario, which has a poverty reduction plan, has seen an increased rate of child poverty from 6.2 per cent in 2007 to 9.1 per cent in 2008.”

 

But Montani disagrees, saying it’s time to stop arguing and take action when families like the Izaguirres are struggling to make ends meet.

 

“One of the things we’re looking for is leadership, from the federal government, from the provincial government, from all political parties to look at the systemic ways we trap families in poverty,” said Montani. “If they don’t get the support they need, then they and their children are trapped in a life of poverty.”

 

 Photo by Pink Sherbert  

 

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