Pandemic supports led to a drop in NB child poverty rate, report says
New Brunswick’s child poverty rate fell about five percent in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic — but that was due to state income support that is no longer available, according to a new report.
The annual report from the Saint John-based Human Development Council found that the child poverty rate fell from 21.7 percent in 2019 to 16.6 percent in 2020.
“It’s a remarkable drop. But we say explicitly that it’s not cause for celebration just yet,” said Chelsea Driscoll, a Council researcher who worked on the report.
Data for 2021 and 2022 aren’t available yet, but Driscoll said the picture probably won’t be good without the supports.
“Families are struggling with increased inflation. Food, home and gas prices are higher than in 2020,” said Driscoll.
“So it’s really easy to see a situation where things are either going back to how they were before the pandemic, or maybe even a little bit worse.”
Drop shows the power of financial support
The drop in 2020 offers a case study of the important role government financial transfers can play in reducing child poverty, Driscoll said.
“This is definitely an avenue the government could explore to advance efforts to reduce child poverty,” she said.
One of several recommendations in the report calls for the federal government to invest $6.4 billion in a new financial transfer targeting families living in deep poverty.
The report will be reviewed and its recommendations reviewed, said Mohammad Hussain, spokesman for the federal minister for families, children and social development.
“Insights like those contained in this report are invaluable in charting the way forward,” Hussain said in a statement.
Hussain referred to the government’s recent work on child poverty, such as Canada’s child benefit. Driscoll noted that benefit was a “key factor” in reducing child poverty.
The publication is part of a nationwide project made up of a coalition of organizations called Campaign 2000: End Child and Family Poverty. The Human Development Council is the provincial partner for New Brunswick.
Raised child poverty rate in NB double national percentage
According to the report, New Brunswick’s racialized child poverty rate is 30.7 percent, double the national rate.
The reason for this is structural and systemic racism, the report says.
“These relate to racial discrimination that is pervasive and deeply embedded in systems, laws, policies and programs,” the report says.
Additionally, one in four Indigenous children in New Brunswick live in poverty, according to the report.
“The ongoing effects of colonialism, racism and intergenerational trauma exacerbate child poverty for Indigenous children,” the report said.
The report also found that Campbellton, Bathurst and Saint John have the highest rates of child poverty in the province.
In Saint John in particular, the report shows that the child poverty rate in the city is higher than in the neighboring suburbs. The rate was 23.8 percent in Saint John and seven percent in Quispamsis.
Report requests for amnesty for CERB refunds
The pandemic income supports lifted 10,300 children in New Brunswick out of poverty, Driscoll said.
But since 2020, some families have been asked to repay some of that money, she said.
The report calls on the federal government to grant CERB repayment amnesty to families below or near the poverty line.
“Providing a CERB amnesty for families living below or near the poverty line would be a very powerful policy change,” said Driscoll.
According to the report, without income support, the child poverty rate would have been about seven percent higher in 2020.
“They are making a transfer that we already know will make a huge difference. And you cut him off for families. There’s no ripple effect at all,” said Driscoll.