Working poor still losing ground

Posted on April 2, 2008 in Debates, Inclusion Debates, Social Security Debates – Ontario – Working poor still losing ground: Report shows Ontario child poverty rate still rising; system penalizes working poor
April 02, 2008
Laurie Monsebraaten, Staff Reporter

When Andrea Duffield’s youngest child started Grade 1 last fall, the single mother of three got a part-time job in the hope of pulling her family out of poverty.

But the extra income caused her subsidized rent to double. And after taxes and work-related expenses, her Toronto family wasn’t any further ahead.

Despite Ontario’s growing economy and low unemployment rate, one in eight children (12.6 per cent) were living in poverty by 2005, a percentage that has been rising since 2001, says the Ontario Campaign 2000 in its annual report to be released today.

That figure applies to after-tax incomes. In before-tax incomes, previously used as the yardstick, child poverty in 2005 was at 17.3 per cent. In 2001, the child poverty rate in Ontario was 10.3 per cent after taxes and 15.1 per cent before taxes.

The advocacy group is demanding that Ontario’s upcoming anti-poverty strategy ensure that every adult working full-time full-year is able to live above the poverty line.

Duffield’s predicament points to the need for continuing social support for people working in low-wage jobs.

“I don’t know why they don’t give low-income people a grace period before they raise (subsidized) rent,” Duffield said. “We just need some time to get on our feet.”

Some 70 per cent of the province’s poor children belong to families like hers, with at least one parent working, says Ontario Campaign 2000. More than 41 per cent have a parent working full-time, full year, the group says.

“A job is not a guaranteed pathway out of poverty,” says its report.

The report’s 2005 findings define poor children as those living in families whose after-tax income is below Statistics Canada’s low income cut-offs.

In 2005, the cut-off was $20,956 for a lone parent with one child living in a large city like Toronto. For a family of four, it was $32,556.

When she is not working, Duffield, 36, runs her family of four, which is not on welfare, on just $17,000 a year in child support and government child benefits.

While decrying poverty levels, Ontario Campaign 2000’s new report says the province has taken some promising steps in the past year.

The minimum wage just went up to $8.75 an hour and will rise to $10.25 by 2011. Ontario low-income families will get a new child benefit worth up to $50 a month starting in July, increasing to $92 a month by 2011. And a Queen’s Park poverty-reduction committee is expected to produce a legislative plan by the end of the year.

The advocacy group wants this anti-poverty strategy to help the children of single mothers, visible minorities, recent immigrants and aboriginals.

“These children are between 1.5 and almost three times more likely to be living in poverty,” the report says.

Ontario Campaign 2000 notes that Quebec has taken steps that reduced its after-tax child poverty rate by more than half to 9.6 per cent in 2005 from a peak of 22 per cent in 1997.

“This shows that it’s achievable,” said the group’s spokesperson Jacquie Maund.

Jan Vink, a principal in Flemington Park, an area teeming with immigrants, says Ontario has to do more to recognize the credentials of foreign-trained professionals who get stuck in menial jobs.


The working poor can expect a higher minimum wage after it hits $10.25 an hour in two years, Premier Dalton McGuinty pledged yesterday under increasing pressure to boost the rate, which rose to $8.75 on Monday.

“We don’t have a plan in place beyond that right now, but I can tell you we will certainly have one before then,” McGuinty said.

“We think that the minimum wage should continue to grow in a progressive way that has some bearing on inflation and the cost of living.”

New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) has introduced a private members’ bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.25 now and $11 an hour by 2011.

Rob Ferguson

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