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Prince Rupert’s child poverty rate highest among B.C. urban areas

Prince Rupert has the highest rate of urban child poverty in the province according to First Call, a B.C. youth advocacy group.

First Call’s annual report worryingly indicated that 620 Prince Rupert children and 22.7 per cent of the youth population live in poverty in 2021, compared to the B.C. average of 14.3 per cent.

The non-profit says it analyzes income tax filings from across the country in combination with data from Statistics Canada’s Census Family Low Income Measure to determine whether a family falls into the poverty threshold, which is set at 50 per cent or less of the median income across the country.

For 2021, the poverty threshold was $34,503 for a lone parent with one child and $42,257 for a couple with one child, though these thresholds have certainly gone up since.

Over 126,000 children across B.C. lived under the poverty line in 2021, according to the report card.

Lifting children out of poverty benefits not just themselves and their families, but the entire society, said Adrienne Montani, executive director of First Call.

“It’s really difficult for children. They see what other children have, what they don’t have. Their parents are stressed because they’re always saying ‘no, we can’t afford that’,” she said.

“We always point to income inequality because it creates poor health outcomes for children and poor outcomes for society as a whole in terms of social cohesion.”

Improved child care, housing and food security, along with a higher minimum wage, were some of the 25 recommendations made by First Call.

Poor access to childcare often forces parents into precarious work that does not offer benefits, according to Montani. She said many parents would like to work full time, but simply cannot due to often expensive and inaccessible child care.

“If you’re a lone parent and you don’t have childcare, it’s really hard to work,” said Montani, who added that many children do not even have access to after-school care, forcing many parents to find part-time employment.

“It’s hard to retain, to recruit and retain early childhood educators if they can’t afford to live on those wages.”

Prince Rupert also earned the undesirable rank of highest percentage of poverty among lone-parent families. According to First Call, 48 per cent of lone-parent families live in poverty in Prince Rupert compared to only nine per cent of couple families.

Though B.C.’s child poverty rates have dropped below the general population’s poverty rate, that is not the case in Prince Rupert, according to Montani.

Prince Rupert’s lone-parent figures are eight per cent higher than the provincial average of 40 per cent, and 14 per cent higher than Victoria, which boasted the lowest poverty rate among lone-parent families in the province.

“That’s a disturbing stat,” said Paul Lagace, a legal advocate at the Prince Rupert Unemployment Action Centre.

While the statistics from 2021 show alarming trends in Prince Rupert, Lagace said these issues are “even bleaker” today, with the scope of poverty reaching an increasing amount of residents as wages fail to keep up with inflation.

“I’m sick of people working full-time and completely in poverty,” he said.

Lagace added that skyrocketing rents in Prince Rupert have put intense pressure on families, particularly those with single incomes.

“If you’re a single parent… you’re spending such a significant percentage of your income on rent.”

Child poverty rates on First Nations reserves were double that of the general population according to the report. Montani said improvements in education, food security and general service accessibility are needed to ameliorate what are shocking rates of child poverty on reserves, particularly in remote regions.

Recent slowdowns to the operations at the Port of Prince Rupert, the largest employer in the city, have confounded hardships for families in the city according to Lagace.

Though the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments made during COVID were not limited to Canadians under the poverty line, Montani said the assistance measures did a great deal to reduce child poverty.

However, Montani believes current provincial and federal income assistance programs do not go far enough to raise children out of poverty.

She said Statistics Canada has already indicated 2022 figures indicate a rise in child poverty rates after a significant drop in 2020.

“Low-income families really benefited during that time [2020] and it lowered their poverty,” she said.

“The poverty rate went back up because those benefits were being withdrawn in 2021, and there were still some in place, but by 2022, they would probably be all gone.”

Both Lagace and Montani said there have been steps in the right direction from the provincial government such as B.C.’s $ 10-a-day childcare program, though both argued more can be done to lift children out of poverty.

Other municipalities across Northwest B.C. saw child poverty rates much closer to the provincial average, with Smithers at a regional low of 12.9 per cent. Port Alberni ranked second-highest for child poverty rates in the province at 20.3 per cent, while the municipality of Victoria had the lowest percentage of poor children with 11.4 per cent.

Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View