EDMONTON – Carol Keddy grew up on a farm and knows all about hard work. But when she lost her job because of health problems, the family fell into poverty.
Keddy is raising two teenagers on social assistance with the help she gets at Amity House community resource centre in northeast Edmonton â€” free bread on Mondays and warm coats in the winter.
â€œWeâ€™re scraping by,â€� said Keddy, though she finds her position â€œreally embarrassing.â€�
Despite all the wealth of the oil boom, children in Alberta live in poverty at the same rate â€” 16 per cent â€” as they did in 1989, the year federal MPs passed a motion to end child poverty in Canada, says a new report by Public Interest Alberta and the Edmonton Social Planning Council.
The working poor arenâ€™t making much progress in this robust economy. More than 60 per cent of the children come from households where one parent has a full-time, low-wage job â€” but itâ€™s not enough to put them above the poverty line, according to the report, also authored by the Alberta College of Social Workers.
Thatâ€™s the case with Shari Sandougaâ€™s family. Her husband works in the kitchen of a nearby casino at slightly more than minimum wage.
â€œEven with the my husband working, by the time the food and bills get paid, thereâ€™s not much,â€� said Sandouga, who tries hard to avoid the food bank.
Sandouga cares for Ameen, their 17-year-old autistic son. She also cannot work for medical reasons and her monthly AISH payment is reduced when her husbandâ€™s earnings pass a threshold.
Alberta and Saskatchewan have the lowest minimum wage rates in the country at $10.20 per hour, with a lower $9.20 per hour for liquor servers here.
John Kolkman of the Edmonton Social Planning Council said that has to change.
â€œThatâ€™s why itâ€™s time to talk about a living wage with government contract services,â€� said Kolkman.
A living wage could be $16 to $17 an hour, he said.
As of 2012, about 143,200 children in Alberta lived in poverty â€” about 28,670 more children than in 1989, says the report.
The provincial government promised a poverty reduction strategy last spring, but thatâ€™s been delayed until 2015, said Lori Sigurdson of Alberta Association of Social Workers.
Sigurdson recommended Alberta start its own child tax credit similar to the federal one that funnels about $100 a month to families with children.
Children are poor because their moms are poor, as there are more women in low-paying jobs than men, said Sigurdson.
Almost a quarter of Albertaâ€™s workers are paid $16 or less an hour, about two-thirds are women and the majority are over 25.
Income inequality is getting worse in Alberta and at a rate faster than the national average, the report notes.
â€œAfter adjusting for inflation, the top one per cent of tax filers saw a 65 per cent increase in their real after-tax incomes compared to only a 5.5 per cent gain for the bottom 99 per cent of tax filers over the period from 1982 to 2011,â€� says the report.
The richest Albertans have by far benefited the most. The top 0.1 per cent of tax filers saw real incomes rise by 136 per cent, compared to a rise of only 3.4 per cent in the real incomes of the bottom 50 per cent of tax filers, says the report.