Child poverty in BC Dr Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer Children who live in poverty Comprehensive data collected on BC’s children at are at greater risk of poor school entry shows a disturbing increase in vulner- health, poor performance in ability for many communities between 2004 and 2007 school and are less likely to despite a strong provincial economy. Over half of graduate from secondary school. That we know, but BC’s poor children lived in families where the adults how about the fact that BC had the highest child pov- worked the equivalent of a full time full-year job. And erty rate in Canada for the fifth year in a row in 2006 Aboriginal children under the age of six years living at 21.9 per cent? off reserves had a poverty rate of 40 per cent in 2005, That is probably news. And so is discovering that more than double the rate for non-Aboriginal children. BC’s child poverty rate is well above the national child The richest 10 per cent of BC’s families with chil- poverty rate of 15.8 per cent? dren had an average income of $201,490 in 2006, up In 2006, the Census of Canada counted 181,000 from $153,899 in 1989. By comparison the poorest poor children in BC. Our province also has the high- 10 per cent of families with children had an aver- est proportion of working poor families; there are far age income of $15,657, down from $16,966 in 1989. too many low-wage jobs. A person working 40 hours a This divergence in income underlines the increasing week for 52 weeks would have to earn $10.76 an hour inequality in the Canadian economy. Despite contin- in 2008 to reach the poverty line for a single person in ued economic growth, poor families have seen no real Vancouver. improvement in their situation while wealthy families Poverty in Canada is measured by using Statistics have shown continual increases in their income. Canada’s Low Income Cut Off measure, or LICO. The Fighting poverty requires a broad approach. Increas- calculation is founded on someone in poverty spend- ing the minimum wage to $10.76 an hour and keep up ing 54.3 per cent or more of their before tax income on with increases in the cost of living would be a terrific food, clothing and shelter. In start. BC should also abolish comparison, the average fam- Our province also has the the so-called $6 an hour train- ily spends 34.3 per cent of its ing wage. Raising welfare income on food, clothing and highest proportion of working rates would also help reduce shelter. poverty, including restoration Children living in low- poor families. of welfare earnings exemp- income families scored lower tions. for school readiness in areas such as knowledge, skills, Cuts in Employment Insurance made by succes- maturity, language and cognitive development. In a re- sive federal governments should be rescinded so cent report, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada most workers are protected during a temporary loss recommended the need to reduce child poverty and of wages. And finally, all British Columbians should said investments that work towards ensuring a healthy have coverage for prescription drugs and dental care start in the early years will reduce the long-term costs through universal public plans. associated with health care, addictions, crime, unem- And maybe then, we will begin to fight child poverty. ployment and welfare. Dr Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sun- shine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.