Prince Albert has highest child poverty rate in Saskatchewan: report

Annual poverty report card says more than one-quarter of province’s children live in poverty, a number that would have been higher if not for government programs

A new report from a national coalition hoping to end child poverty says Prince Albert has the highest rate of child poverty in the province.

The 2020 Saskatchewan Child Poverty Report Card, authored by Gardson Hunter and Miguel Sanchez of the University of Regina’s Social Policy Research Centre, shows that as of 2018, 35.1 per cent of Prince Albert children were living in poverty. That’s the highest mark in the province, the report says. Prince Albert also led in overall poverty, with 24.4 per cent, or just under one of four, residents coming below the poverty line.

The report, released on March 26 of this year, used data from a custom Statistics Canada data tabulation obtained by Campaign 2000 and data from the province’s labour force statistics to examine the rates of poverty and child poverty among Saskatchewan’s ten largest cities and then in the remaining province as a whole. Poverty level was measured using the Low income measure, or LIM, the most commonly-used threshold for what constitutes low income.

 The LIM is 50 per cent of median adjusted household income, and is defined by the federal government. It’s adjusted based on household size and calculated using an annual survey of household income.

The remainder of the province didn’t fare much better. Saskatchewan’s population outside of the ten biggest cities has a poverty rate of 23.8 per cent and a child poverty rate of 24.5 per cent.

As a whole, Saskatchewan has the third-highest poverty rates, behind only Manitoba and Nunavut.

Overall, the province had an 18.8 per cent poverty rate, higher than the 16.5 per cent rate for Canada as a whole.

The number of Saskatchewan children living in poverty has also decreased since 2013. Then, there were 71.700. In 2018, there were 73,000. Still, the percentage dipped slightly, from 27.7 per cent to 26.1 per cent. That rate, more than one in four, is the lowest the child poverty rate has landed for Saskatchewan in the last number of years. While child poverty rates have slowly crept downwards, overall poverty rates were decreasing up until 2014, but have been climbing back upwards since.

In 2018, there were 214,280 residents and about 73,000 children whose incomes were not enough to pull them out of poverty.

Worse, the authors said, the depth of poverty — what they define as the gap between the lowest earners and the poverty line — is significantly higher in Saskatchewan than the national average.

The bottom 50 per cent of impoverished families were $14,437 below the poverty line. The national average is $10,000.

The numbers were worse for children in single-parent homes.

 The report also looks at the demographic makeup of the province’s poor. The highest rates of child poverty, the report said, are among Saskatchewan’s First Nations, Métis, Immigrant and visible minority populations.

Using 2016 data, the poverty rate among First Nations families in Saskatchewan was 49.4 per cent. The on-reserve poverty level was two in three.

Almost one-in-four (23.8 per cent) of children in immigrant families lived below the poverty line, and 21.9 per cent of non-immigrant visible minority families.

 “Children and adults (in poverty) have difficulty feeding and housing themselves and do not have the resources that would allow them protection against the negative long-term effects that poverty and discrimination have on social, mental and physical health and well-being,” the authors of the report wrote.

They added that Campaign 2000, which provided the data and funding for the report, holds the position that “poverty is not inevitable, but is a result of choices.”

Some of those choices improved the situation, though the report authors say they didn’t go far enough. Provincial and federal social programs helped lift some out of poverty in 2018, they said. Saskatchewan’s child poverty rate of 26.1 per cent in 2018 would have been as high as 39 per cent if not for federal and provincial supports, the authors wrote. It would have been 42 per cent for children under the age of six.

In other words, they said, the rate of child poverty was reduced from more than one in three to one in four, though, they noted that it’s still far too high.

Saskatchewan’s child poverty rate has been above the 25 per cent mark since at least 2009, even when the economy was booming, they found.

 “Evey year more than a quarter of Saskatchewan children lived below the poverty line, demonstrating that during a period of growth in the Ssakatvchewan economy ending in 2014-15, little if any of the economic benefits reached the poorest in the province.”

They said further analysis of those trends is in progress at the Social Policy Research Centre.

While 2018 was the latest data available, the authors anticipate the number to only get worse, not better. Between ongoing economic hardship and now, the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors said it’s unlikely that significant work will have been done on lifting the poorest out of poverty.

They said the idea that the best form of welfare is a job is a myth, as evidenced by higher levels of poverty that would occur if none of those government transfers were in place.

 “Government transfers have proven to be a very effective way to reduce poverty,” the report authors wrote.

“Their inadequacy is in the amount of money made available to families and children. The depth of poverty rates indicates how inadequate the present benefit levels are.”

In a country as wealthy as Canada, they wrote, that’s inexcusable.

“In Saskatchewan … the child poverty rate for 2018 is discouraging and frustrating. The current benefits levels available have demonstrated their inadequacy year after year. The future does not bode well for low-income residents of the province. It seems likely that when data bout the province’s poverty rate for 2019 and 2020 become available, there will be a significant increase in poverty.”

They added that the argument that social programs to lift all out of poverty would be too expensive is demonstrably false, especially as governments spent millions and billions bailing out businesses, first in 2018 and now again in 2020 and 2021.

They fear the repayment of those bailouts will come at the cost of working-class families, disadvantaged people, the poor and their children.

“In the present climate of limited resources, people must ask representatives that both federal and provincial governments be accountable for meeting human rights obligations to provide adequate income support for all low-income Canadians,” the authors concluded.

The report was one of several recently released by Campaign 2000. The organization calls itself a non-partisan, cross Canada coalition of over 120 organizations committed to ending child and family poverty.

The Herald reached out to the organization and to the report’s authors, but did not receive a response by press time.