Manitoba has the highest child poverty rate of any Canadian province: report

A new report found that child poverty in Manitoba continues to be on the rise, ranking number one among Canadian provinces, second only to Nunavut among provinces and territories.

The report, titled “Manitoba: Missed Opportunities,” was released by Campaign 2000, a national coalition that monitors progress and setbacks in ending child poverty by the year 2000, a unanimous motion passed in the House of Commons in 1989.

It pulls from the most recent data from 2019 from the T1 Family File, with poverty status derived from income tax returns.

Kate Koehler, executive director of The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, and part of the Campaign 2000 Committee, said the report is designed to hold governments accountable.

“We have 88,840 kids who do not have the basic necessities in life, and we know that kids are poor because their families are poor,” Koehler said.

The report shows child poverty in Manitoba is second only to Nunavut, and it found that child poverty disproportionately impacts First Nations children compared to non-Indigenous children.

It found that child poverty sits at 28.4 per cent in Manitoba, up from the previous year’s marker of 28.3 per cent.

According to the report, that means more than one in four children under 18 live in families that lack adequate income to provide the necessities of life. It said insecure, unaffordable or overcrowded housing, a lack of suitable or nutritious food and/or inadequate clothing are daily realities for 88,840 kids in Manitoba.

Koehler said often families living in poverty only have low paying jobs available to them.

She said Manitoba has the second-lowest minimum wage in the country, $11.95 an hour, making it a challenge for single parents to make ends meet.

“Forty hours a week, you’re working full-time flat out, and you’re still below the poverty line,” said Koehler.

“So that means you’re relying on food banks, that means you’re relying on school programs for your kid.”

The report said if the current approach continues, it will take 1,450 years to end child poverty in the province.

The report also ranked Manitoba ridings by child poverty rates. Churchill-Keewatinook Aski ranked first in Manitoba with 64.4 per cent, or nearly two thirds. It is also ranked number one in the country.

Winnipeg Centre came in second in Manitoba federal ridings, with a 39.6 per cent child poverty rate, which is also third nationwide.

Leah Gazan, MP for Winnipeg Centre, said those staggering numbers are one of the reasons she’s pushing for a guaranteed livable basic income for all Canadians.

“In a country as rich as Canada, we need to make sure that all individuals including children can live in dignity, and ensure their human rights are upheld,” Gazan said. “This is not happening.”

The report also notes that kids in single-parent families are almost four times more likely to live in poverty than those in couple-led families. It found 62 per cent of children in single-parent families lived in poverty in 2019.

While the most recent Census data is not yet available, 2016 numbers showed First Nations, Métis and Inuit kids in Manitoba all had elevated child poverty rates.

Meanwhile, the report found Manitoba’s on-reserve and off-reserve child poverty rates were at 65 per cent and 53 per cent respectively. It notes the trend shows an ongoing need for more substantive investments in achieving the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The report calls on the provincial government to be ‘more ambitious and strategic with their poverty reduction targets,’ making key recommendations aimed at bringing down the province’s child poverty rates.

They include revising the provincial poverty reduction strategy, increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, improving income supports, and increasing EIA benefits for single adults.

On Wednesday, Manitoba’s Minister of Families Rochelle Squires was asked about the province’s effort to combat child poverty.

“Our poverty-reduction strategy set a goal to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent by 2025, and, of course, our government is committed to achieving that goal. We do know that more needs to be done,” she said.

Koehler said both levels of government need to invest in ending child poverty.

“Every time we fail to invest in ending poverty, we still pay for it,” she said. “We’re still paying for it in jailing people, we’re still paying for it in our healthcare system.”

The full report can be read here.

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