B.C.’s child poverty rate still second worst in the country

Kate Webb, Metro Vancouver

Marjorie Cohen, a Simon Fraser University political economist who studies the impact of government policies on vulnerable populations, said there are many factors that influence child poverty rates in B.C.

The most important, she said, are recessions, globalization, wages and social assistance rates, and the federal downloading of responsibility for housing and day care onto the provinces.

“Right now we’re the second worst [in the country], but we have been the worst, we were the worst for 10 years running,” she said, listing two policies in particular she believes contributed to a huge spike from 2001 to 2003, and rates far higher than the national average for most of the time since.

“One was the really absolutely abysmal amount that people in poverty were living on through social assistance. The second thing that’s been incredibly important in B.C. has been the low-wage strategy of the government. For 10 years almost we had no increase in the minimum wage.”

Cohen cautioned against attributing short-term historical spikes to any one party’s policies alone, but said rates were fairly steady under the NDP in the ’90s and declined significantly until 1997, when the party began rolling back social assistance rates.

The election of the B.C. Liberals in 2001 amidst a mild recession was followed by what she called an “attack on poor people” in which many people were cut from social assistance entirely and rates of homelessness began to increase.

“The real boost to child poverty began under the Liberal government,” she said.

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