Child poverty rate in British Columbia back to the worst, children of single moms hit hard

First Call

The child poverty rate in British Columbia rose from 10.5 percent in 2010 to 11.3 percent in 2011, according to newly-released figures from Statistics Canada.

This rate puts BC in a tie with Manitoba for the worst in Canada. This also means the child poverty rate in BC has been the worst of all provinces for 9 out of the last 10 years (all but 2010, when we moved to second worst).

The number of poor children was up from 87,000 in 2010 to 93,000 in 2011. For children living with lone-parent mothers, the poverty rate jumped from 16.4 percent to 24.6 percent, representing 27,000 children.

A single parent with one child was considered low income at $23,498 per year in a large city, based on Statistics Canada’s low income cut-offs after government transfers and federal and provincial income taxes.

The spike in the poverty rate for children in female-led lone-parent families is not surprising when we see that the median market income for these families — income at the exact middle of the income spectrum – fell dramatically between 2010 and 2011 from $32,000 to $21,500 per year.

In the context of rising shelter, child care, transportation and other necessary costs of living, these statistics raise serious concerns about the adequacy of wages to keep families out of poverty, particularly for those with only one income earner and those who earn less than the median income.

The poverty rate for BC children in two-parent families rose from 7.7 percent in 2010 to 9.4 percent in 2011. The number of poor children in two-parent families increased by 10,000, from 51,000 to 61,000. The low income cut-off for a family of 4 in a city of 500,000 or more in 2011 was $36,504 per year.

“A decade plus of excessively high child poverty rates in this province, through good and bad economic times, has undermined the life chances of generations of poor children,” said Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. “Enough is enough. It’s time for the BC government to invest effort and money in a bringing this number down through a comprehensive action plan. It’s not rocket science – we know what will help.”

Premier Christy Clark’s election victory speech promised to share the economic benefits of the province with everyone. The recent speech from the throne promised to secure a bright future for BC’s children but did not mention relief for the high percentage of children living in poverty now. The promised Early Childhood Tax Benefit won’t materialize until April 2015 and $660 per year won’t come close to lifting most poor children out of poverty, when depth of poverty figures for lone-parent and two-parent families have shown them to be $10,000 or more below the poverty line. “The 2013 provincial budget contains no policy measures or significant investments that will help families struggling with inadequate incomes now,” said Montani. “The number one priority in the Premier’s directives to even the child-oriented ministries is to contain costs, rather than meet needs.”

While the statistics also show that the poverty rate for persons of all ages in BC fell from 11.5 percent in 2010 to 10.7 percent in 2011, it was still the worst poverty rate in Canada for 13 consecutive years. Unfortunately children and families are among those who have not seen improvement.

First Call is a non-partisan coalition of over 90 provincial and regional organizations and hundreds of individuals focused on promoting children’s rights and improving the wellbeing of BC’s children and youth.

The Coalition hosts the Living Wage for Families Campaign, urging public and private sector employers to consider their role in reducing poverty among their employees. It also supports a significant increase in welfare rates and the indexing of both the minimum wage and welfare rates to the cost of living. First Call calls on the province to implement the $10/Day Child Care Plan, to invest in more social housing and improved access to coverage for dental care and prescription drugs, to restore funding to the public education system and improve access to post-secondary education without high student debt levels. The Coalition also calls for improved employment standards and enforcement