Today, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia releases its 2011 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia written by CCPA-NS Research Associate, Lesley Frank. It evaluates Nova Scotia’s progress toward Canada’s 1989 goal of eradicating child poverty by 2000. According to the After-Tax Low Income Cut-Off, approximately 8 percent of Nova Scotians under 18 years of age live in homes with insufficient financial resources to make ends meet. Needless to say, we have yet to achieve the goal of eradicating child poverty.
Unfortunately, after some progress between the mid-1990s and 2000s, the proportion of young people living in poverty increased in 2009-the most recent data available. That meant that 14,000 Nova Scotians under 18 years old live in poverty. For every classroom that seats 25 students, 2 of those kids are living in low-income households.
One troubling fact is the vulnerability of children in single-parent female households. More than one in every four children who lives with a lone female parent is living in poverty. While this is a 50 percent decrease from the 1989 rate, it remains a blemish on Nova Scotia’s social landscape. Single mothers in Nova Scotia face major barriers to providing for their children. And, families with children under the age of 6 are also left much more vulnerable with 1 in 4 of these children living in poverty. Given what we know about the importance of the early years, this is especially concerning.
Child poverty in households dependent on social programs is particularly troubling wherein, by definition, all families live in poverty. If we add together social assistance payments, federal and provincial child tax credits, and goods and service tax payments, family incomes fall well below Low Income Cut-Offs. A single-parent, single-child family will fall $4,000 below the poverty line, and a couple with two children will fall nearly $8,500 below. These poverty gaps are unacceptable. The needs-based system is obviously failing, since these families cannot possibly afford basic necessities.
Another disturbing trend is the steadily increasing number of children living in poverty who are members of a household with at least the equivalent of one fulltime, full-year earner. The number of children in such a situation was below 30 percent in 1996. Since then, this number has increased to more than 50 percent. That is, more than half of kids in poverty have at least one parent who works fulltime, all year. Too many jobs in Nova Scotia simply do not pay enough for families to pay the bills.
There are few, if any, social indicators that shock the conscience as much as child poverty. Allowing our children to languish in poverty is not only shameful, but it is imprudent economic policy. As we saw in the CCPA-NS report, poverty costs Nova Scotia between $1.5 and $2.2 billion annually in the form of extra healthcare, crime, intergenerational costs and decreased productivity. When citizens remain stuck in the cycle of poverty, they are denied a fair chance to reach their potential.
There are simple, practical policy options that would reduce child and family poverty. It is true that the NS Poverty Reduction Strategy was introduced in 2009 and that the NS NDP government have made some changes that will help those families living in poverty. Indeed, the impact of these changes would not be reflected in this data, but unfortunately these changes were likely not significant enough to make a serious dent in these rates. More significant changes like bringing income assistance over the poverty line, and raising the minimum wage to closer to the median wage, we can make it possible for low-income families to break the cycle of poverty. Introducing a system of universal early learning and child-care and ensuring access to affordable postsecondary education, would also greatly increase the likelihood of families stepping up a rung on the economic ladder. These are choices that, as a wealthy province and country, we do have. When we neglect to enact these policies, we consciously and unfairly condemn many of our children to lives of poverty. These children are our future, let’s put our money where it would matter the most.