Child poverty a troubling sign of times

Ted Clark, Prince George Citizen

As frontline workers in schools, teachers see child poverty every day.

It arrives before the first morning bell when children bring hunger with them to school. They see it at recess, when a student doesn’t have a warm coat for winter. And they see it during gym class, when a kid’s only footwear are the runners he wore when he left home.

Child advocate Adrienne Montani knows there’s plenty of work that has to be done when one in seven children in the B.C. school system are from families living below the poverty line.

According to Statistics Canada, the child poverty rate in B.C. in 2009 was 14.3 per cent, up from 10.4 per cent in 2008, which means 119,000 public school students are considered poor. Only Manitoba ranks worse among Canadian provinces. For eight years in the past decade, B.C.’s child poverty rate led the country and it’s been worse than the national average every year since 1999.

“There are serious consequences to high rates of poverty -we’re not making a lot of progress yet and we really can do something about it,” said Montani, provincial coordinator of the First Call BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

“We can index minimum wage rates of our lowest paid workers, we want welfare [income] rates up, and we have to stop squeezing young families, and stop contracting out jobs. Social service supports, like child care, need to be in place and we need to look at why we’re building an economy that is largely low-wage.”…

The new figures still show that groups traditionally most vulnerable to poverty -children of female lone-parent families, children of recent immigrants, ab-originals and children living with disabilities, and welfare recipients -are over-represented in poverty statistics.

“We’ve institutionalized food banks and other places because [welfare incomes] are totally inadequate to cover shelter and food, and that’s a prescription for poor health for kids and poor outcomes in schools,” she said.

In 2009, for people living in city the size of Prince George, Statistics Canada considered the before-tax low-income poverty indicator cutoff at $35,573 for a two-parent, two-child family, and $19,144 for a single person….