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Manitoba's child-poverty rate is the highest in Canada for the second straight year, a national report card released Thursday reveals.
The Campaign 2000 report, A Road Map to Eradicate Child and Family Poverty, examined the most recent data available, collected from 2014. The corresponding Manitoba Child and Family Poverty Report Card 2016 — released by Winnipeg Harvest — shows one in 3.5 children in the province are living in poverty.
The troubling data show the number grew from 23 per cent in 1989 to 29 per cent in 2014, the highest of any province, and exceeded only by the territory of Nunavut.
Sid Frankel, the provincial report's author and an associate professor of social work at the University of Manitoba, said the one-in-3.5 statistic translates to 85,110 children in Manitoba, and the province's "deep poverty" rate is 10.5 per cent above the national 18.5 rate
"Last year we described child and family poverty in Manitoba as a crisis, which has become a chronic nightmare," he said, speaking at the Basic Income Symposium at the U of M. "In 2014, the nightmare continued."
The data show that more than 62 per cent of Manitoba children in single-parent families live in poverty, the highest rate of all provinces and territories and 16.6 percent above the national rate.
"Manitoba has the distinction of having the highest indigenous child-poverty levels in the country, 76 per cent (or) more than three-quarters of children living in First Nations communities in Manitoba are poor," Frankel said. "And 39 per cent of indigenous children living outside the First Nations communities are poor."
Joy Black, a single mother of a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, spoke Thursday about the daily struggle and emotional toll that poverty takes on families. Her son has been diagnosed with several medical conditions, making it difficult for her to find and keep a job.
"My experience living in poverty is having to say 'no' to them a lot," Black said.
She said feeding her family, even with food-bank support, is a daily challenge and there's never enough money. She described a constant and humiliating search for funding assistance for every extra-curricular or school activity.
"Some days you just want to go curl up and pull the covers over your head and hide from the world," Black said, adding she escaped an abusive relationship and is raising her children alone.
"My children are lucky in that I have a strong focus on their education and I have been telling them if you do good in school, you go on after. You go to university, you take a trade, you do something so you don't have to stay living like this," she said.
Manitoba also has the highest rate of all provinces of child poverty in two-parent families at 18.5 per cent, also higher than the national rate.
Food bank use, included in the report from the Hunger Count 2016 by Food Banks Canada, showed Manitoba second overall with 8.9 per cent of all children in families using food banks. Only Newfoundland and Labrador (10.8 per cent) was higher.
The report calls for the provincial government to make good on Premier Brian Pallister's campaign and victory speech promises to set child-poverty reduction targets in a plan with a timeline.
"We're disappointed that now two throne speeches have not contained that plan," Frankel said.
The province did not respond publicly Thursday.
Other recommendations in the report included increases and improvements to the Manitoba Child Benefit, developing a plan to reduce child poverty in indigenous communities, increasing the supply of well-paying, non-precarious full-time jobs and increasing the minimum wage to $15.53 per hour, as recommended by Make Poverty History Manitoba.
Another solution addressed in the report was a basic income for all families, noting that the current welfare system is "inadequate" and those government income transfers "lift fewer children out of poverty than any other province or territory."
The report's child-poverty rates are based on Statistic Canada's Low Income Measure After Tax, which takes into account household size and income. In Black's case, the LIM-AT for a single parent with two children is $30,301.
"I don't even come close to that. If I got that, it would make a huge difference in our lives," she said.
Frankel said most Manitoba families living in poverty are between $12,000 and $13,000 below the LIM-AT poverty threshold.
In 1989, the government of Canada in the House of Commons passed a unanimous motion to end child poverty by the year 2000.
To see current report, go to campaign2000.ca.
Ashley works the general assignment beat.
Updated on Friday, November 25, 2016 at 7:23 AM CST: Edited