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Neediest children grow even poorer [ON]

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Carey, Elaine
Publication Date: 
4 Nov 2002

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Persistent poverty over the past decade has hit children in the GTA hard, with children of single-parent families suffering the most.

Despite a growing economy, one in three children in Toronto lived in poverty in 1999 &emdash; up slightly from 1995 &emdash; and more of them were living with a single parent than ever before, according to a new report released today.

Over the 1990s, single parents in Toronto and their children got poorer. Their already low median income fell from $29,000 in 1990 to only $24,600 by 1999. That was four times worse than the 4 per cent decline in the median incomes of single parents elsewhere in Canada, the Canadian Council on Social Development says in the sixth edition of its annual report, The Progress of Canada's Children.

The council, an independent research organization that focuses on social policy, decided for its latest report to examine "persistent poverty," defined as living below Statistics Canada's low income cut-off for most of the decade. The information was drawn from various studies through the past decade or more.

The report paints a startling picture of the toll of persistent poverty and deteriorating services:

Poverty, combined with a shortage of programs and services, has led to growing alienation among Toronto's youth.
Children who live in persistent poverty are twice as likely to live in a "dysfunctional family," twice as likely to live with violence and more than three times as likely to live with a depressed parent.

Children who immigrated to Canada in the past 15 years are more likely to be poor than non-immigrants, even though they are more likely to have parents who work more than 50 hours per week.

Between 1984 and 1999, the average net worth of the country's poorest families (the 20 per cent with the lowest annual incomes) dropped by 51 per cent, while it rose by 43 per cent for the wealthiest 20 per cent.

About 320,000 children a year get some of their food from food banks and 60 per cent of households using food banks are families with children.

Only 27 per cent of poor children have satisfactory reading skills, compared to 44 per cent of those who have never been poor.

Because of the "continuing housing crisis," the number of families spending more than half their pre-tax income on rent rose by 43 per cent between 1990 and 1995. Families with children are the fastest-growing group requiring emergency shelter.

Louise Hanvey, project director for the report, said Canadian families are spending more of their income on "the great equalizers, education and health" &emdash; even though these are supposed to be universally provided. The amount a two-parent family with children spent on education doubled to $1,461 in 1999 from seven years earlier, with spending on health care rising to $1,505.

The report singles out education as one of the most "worrisome" examples of what has happened to children's services in Ontario:

Waiting lists for special education services in the public school system reached 39,700 students by the last school year, and a quarter of public schools needed fundraising drives to buy textbooks.

Ontario also had more children needing &emdash; but not getting &emdash; child welfare and day-care services. Almost 15,000 children were in the care of the state last year, up from less than 10,000 four years earlier. And for every child in subsidized day care, another 12 are on a waiting list.

Poor Aboriginal children in Ontario cities fare even worse, the report says.

reprinted from the Toronto Star.