Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 24/11/2015 (2131 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Shelley Sauve’s youngest son was in Grade 5, he refused to tell his mother for weeks that his shoes no longer fit. It was his teacher who finally gave Sauve a heads-up.
"I bought shoes on sale at the end of the last season, and by the time school started, his feet had grown two sizes," said Sauve.
The Christmas of 2013 was a particularly lean one and Sauve’s two boys didn’t ask for anything. They haven’t asked for much this year, either, because Sauve is back on employment insurance after she gave up a beloved part-time job as an educational assistant for a full-time gig as a grocery store manager that fell through.
"It’s so frustrating," said Sauve, a trained teacher who has spent years subbing and juggling education assistant jobs while trying to manage two autistic boys. "You have to give up your dreams. Then you think, ‘We’ll manage, we’ll be OK,’ and then something comes along and kicks the feet out from under you, and you land on your butt... The kids get worried. Kids get scared."
Sauve’s sons — Gary, 19 and Miguel, 13 — are among the roughly 84,350 Manitoba children living in poverty.
The latest annual child poverty report card, released Tuesday, shows nearly a third of Manitoba children are poor, the highest provincial rate of child poverty in Canada.
It’s a number that’s been stagnant for the last three years and on the rise over the long term.
In 2013, 29 per cent of Manitoba kids lived below Statistics Canada’s low-income measure. That’s a full 10 points higher than the national average and six points higher than in 1989.
"Manitoba children are failed both by the labour market, which leaves more of them in poverty than in any other province or territory, and by government income transfers, which lift fewer children out of poverty than in any other province or territory," wrote Winnipeg Harvest director David Northcott and University of Manitoba social work Prof. Sid Frankel. "Since 2009, Manitoba has had a poverty reduction strategy. Unfortunately, the rate of child poverty has been higher than in 2008 in every year since announcement of the All Aboard strategy."
Frankel said this is the 26th Manitoba Child and Family Poverty Report Card.
"I’m getting kind of tired and increasingly angry and upset about what we have to report," said Frankel at the report’s release at Freight House. "You might think governments might say there’s something that’s not working here."
In advance of April’s provincial election, Frankel and Northcott recommend a new poverty plan with hard targets. And they called for more social assistance to poor families, including doubling welfare’s "basic needs" allocation.
Frankel said Manitoba’s social assistance rates are so low they amount to "legislated poverty."
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Frankel and Northcott also called on the Manitoba government to immediately raise the minimum wage to $15.53 per hour from $11, noting small, regular increases to the minimum wage in recent years haven’t decreased poverty or boosted the number of decent-paying, full-time jobs.
Frankel noted one reason for Manitoba’s sky-high child poverty rates is the plethora of temporary, part-time, low-wage work.
Tuesday’s child poverty report used the low income measure, one of three commonly used measures of poverty and the one used most frequently internationally. It pegs the poverty line at half of the median income, which is about $29,500 for a family such as Sauve’s with one parent and two children.
The Selinger government prefers to use the market-basket measure, another poverty rate indicator that better reflects the local cost of living.
Later this week, the province will release an annual update on its poverty reduction strategy, which is expected to show there were 4,000 fewer children living in poverty using the market-basket measure in 2012 than in 2013.
Coupons, twice monthly trips to the food bank, generous parents, a vegetable garden and the occasional meat sale helped single mom Monique Curci get by on social assistance for years.
“I had to know where every single cent and dollar went,” she said. “It’s definitely a struggle. It really kind of fed my depression. I don’t want my kids to struggle. They see their friends — ‘They get to have this. They get to go here’... It definitely eats away at the self-esteem. It’s hard to pull yourself out of it.”
Now, after 13 years on and off welfare and disability, trying to care for two special-needs children and trying to finish her bachelor of arts degree, Curci is revelling in a new job, one she loves that pays her double what welfare did.
But, for years, her children — son Dillan, 13 and daughter Riley, 10 — were among the thousands of Manitoba children living in poverty.
She says the shortage of affordable housing is a huge problem for poor, single parents. For a while, she was paying $1,149 a month and got only $1,400 on disability.
She said the shortage of services for kids with special needs such as autism, and the delays getting diagnoses and into programs, made it nearly impossible to find and keep a job when she was constantly asking for time off for appointments or to care for unpredictable kids.
This year, with her own mental health stable, Curci started looking for work, sending out about 10 applications a day. But with a spotty employment history, big gaps spent looking after her kids and an unfinished university degree, the search took months.
Recently, she got a job at Work and Social Opportunities Inc. helping adults with intellectual disabilities find their own jobs. “I’m actually not going to be broke for a week and a half or two weeks at the end of the month. It’s such a huge weight that has been lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
Three ways to fix child poverty
Set real targets
Premier Greg Selinger: "Our view is we want to make continuous progress every single year, and we have done that... We will commit to continuous progress and annual reports to show you the results."
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister: "Yes... I think it's really critical that there be those targets. I accept with great enthusiasm the challenge of working to set hard targets."
Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari: No specific reply. "We are looking for a more complete and comprehensive approach instead of piecemeal solutions. We will articulate our position on poverty reduction in the coming weeks, well in advance of the election."
Double the "basic needs" welfare allocation, now a maximum of $466 a month for a single parent of one.
Selinger: "What we're committed to is we want benefits for people that allow them opportunities to take education and work and that include social assistance reform... We want them available not just to people on social assistance but available to people who are working, as well."
Pallister: "I'm very hesitant to make promises when I don't know if I can keep them."
Bokhari: No reply.
Immediately increase the minimum wage to $15.53 an hour from $11.
Selinger: "We will commit to a process to increasing the minimum wage while ensuring that we're creating jobs. A minimum wage that's very high when jobs are shrinking is not really that helpful. A minimum wage that continues to go up and allows people to live outside poverty while we create good jobs is the way to go... We're the only political party in this province that has a commitment to raising the minimum wage on a consistent basis."
Pallister: "There is lots of mixed research on the wisdom of raising the minimum wage, in terms of how it helps people or does not help them. There's lots of different opinion on that in Manitoba, too, because we've consulted with a lot of people on this. Many people believe raising the basic personal exemption should come ahead of raising the minimum wage... We've taken the position that the basic personal exemption kicks in far too early... That doesn't rule out raising the minimum wage, though."