Impossible economic pressures are pushing Kamloops families into poverty and dragging children’s quality of life down with it, according to results of a study recently released by Interior Community Services.
The 2012 State of the Child, compiled by the community coalition Make Children First Kamloops, used statistics from a wide variety of sources to provide a snapshot of youth under age six.
The report shows that the cost of housing, food and child care is crippling many parents. And while the cost of living rises, government subsidies are failing to keep up, according to the report.
The combination of financial pressures is leading to extreme poverty and even homelessness for local families.
“The working poor are going over the edge into really extreme poverty and ending up on the streets. During our homeless count, there were homeless children in shelters,” said Tangie Genshorek Kamloops Homelessness Action Plan co-ordinator.
While the count report does not include the number of children found in Kamloops shelters, “we are definitely seeing a rise across Canada in homeless families, homeless youth as well,” said Genshorek.
The problem, she said, is that construction of new affordable rental housing all but stopped in the 1980s with the end of a federal tax incentive program.
Venture Kamloops lists the city’s rental vacancy rate at 4.3 per cent.
Demand far outweighing supply is driving up costs, and wages are not keeping up but there may soon be hope in the form of government programs.
Genshorek made a presentation to the federal finance committee in Ottawa last fall to recommend a national tax incentive for the creation of affordable housing.
She said it went “quite well.”
Housing cost statistics are alarming. A University of British Columbia study shows that housing today costs 150 per cent more than in 1976 when adjusting for inflation. By comparison, incomes for those aged 25 to 34 have decreased by six per cent in that time.
“Even when you look at the jobs in the early 1980s,” said Valerie Janz director of Child and Family Services, which distributed the 2012 State of the Child study, “people were working at Safeway for $20 an hour in 1980 and that same job now is $10 an hour.
“Jobs like that used to provide for a family.”
Since both parents typically have to work to provide for the family, child-care costs are also a huge factor.
Child-care subsidies for those in most desperate need used to cover the entire cost, said Janz. But the portion parents must pay has been creeping ever higher to hundreds of dollars a month.
“And not everyone qualifies for a subsidy,” she said. “That’s why there’s such a huge push to get a universal childcare program going, because parents just can’t afford it.”
Meanwhile, the most pressing basic necessity, food, is also increasingly unaffordable, leading to more families with young children relying on the food bank.
According to the study, The Cost of Eating in British Columbia 2011, those on income assistance need 34 per cent to 49 per cent of their disposable income for food.
“In 2012, we served 768 children under the age of five,” said Bernadette Siracky, executive director of the Kamloops Food Bank.
A Basics for Babies program provides formula, cereal, baby food and diapers to all families coming to the food bank with children under two years of age.
And the Baby Bank, established in 2010, is increasingly popular, said Siracky. It offers additional items such as wipes, clothing and other foods.
Poverty is usually detrimental to a child’s nutrition because processed, sugary and salty foods are less expensive than natural and fresh products.
“We try our best to give people . . . the four food groups. It’s tough,” said Siracky.
The State of the Child 2012 report also has a bit of good news for Kamloops in the chapter entitled A City Fit for Children.
It states that community gardens have increased by 134 for a total of 268 plots, offering low-income families fresh, healthy produce.
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Kamloops by the numbers:
* Population: 85,678 — up 6.6 per cent since 2006
* Children 0-5 years of age: 5,085
* Lone-parent households: 16.2 per cent — four in five of those families are led by a single mother.
* 12 per cent of the Kamloops Food Bank’s clients, or 804 children, were children 0-5 years old in 2011 — up from nine per cent in 2010.
* The Kamloops Food Bank’s Baby Bank provided necessities including formula and diapers to 545 babies and toddlers 0-3 years of age in 2011.
* The low income cutoff for a family of four living in Kamloops is $35,354 before tax.
* A family with two full-time working parents and two children require $17.27 as hourly living wages to meet their basic needs.
* August 2012 unemployment rate was 7.3 per cent
* 913 babies were born to families living in Kamloops in 2011 — a decrease from 924 in 2010 and 976 in 2009.
* There are 178 licensed child care centres in Kamloops, with space for 2,808 children — an increase from 156 licensed centres with space for 2,638 in 2010.
* Child Care Resource and Referral assisted 742 families with childcare subsidy applications in 2011.
Source: Make Children First Kamloops