The newest report card on child and family poverty in Nova Scotia shows that even under the worst conditions—a pandemic and an almost complete shutdown of the economy—the government can act quickly to support people endure these shocks and help them to be shock resistant. In just one year, the child poverty rate decreased in Nova Scotia by 24.3 per cent—the most significant single-year reduction on record.
Small, incremental policy changes have yet to make much of a difference in the lives of a generation. Childhood is both too important and too short for anything other than bold actions and significant investments over a short period. Now we know this is possible.
Nova Scotia Continues to Perform Poorly at Reducing Child Poverty
This is the first time since 2000 that the child poverty rate in Nova Scotia has dropped below 24 per cent, whereas it dipped below 24 per cent nationally in 2005 and steadily declined.
In 2020, there were still 31,370 children living in low-income families (18.4 per cent), or more than 1 in 6 children in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia’s child poverty rate is the fourth-highest in Canada and the highest in Atlantic Canada. The Canadian rate is 13.5 per cent.
Nova Scotia’s poverty reduction due to federal and provincial transfers was the least effective in the Atlantic. Using government transfers, nine other provinces and territories were more effective in reducing child poverty. Combined, all government benefits reduced child poverty by 55.9 per cent, lifting 26,810 children aged 0-17 out of poverty in NS. Without those transfers, the child poverty rate would have been 41.4 per cent. Quebec was the province that performed the best, reducing child poverty by 68.5 per cent using government transfers, and has the lowest provincial child poverty rate of 10.6 per cent.
Federal Temporary COVID-19 Benefits Made the Difference
Without the temporary pandemic benefits (including the CERB), 14,500 additional children in Nova Scotia would have fallen into poverty, and the child poverty rate would have increased from its 2019 level (from 24.3 to 27 per cent). The reduction in Nova Scotia is almost entirely due to federal pandemic relief support and top-ups.
In 2020, just over 569,000 Nova Scotians, representing 69.5 per cent of those over 15, received COVID-related assistance. The total support to individuals in Nova Scotia in 2020 added up to $2.088 billion, with only 0.3 per cent coming from the Nova Scotia government. 99 per cent of the support came from the federal government.
Some Children have Higher Poverty Rates
The provincial child poverty rate does hide that poverty rates are higher for some children. We show the poverty rate variance by the child's age, family size and family type every year. This year’s card shows a higher incidence of poverty for children under six at 21.3 per cent and children living in families with three or more children (21.4 per cent). While the report card has always shown higher poverty rates for lone-parent families than couple families, we could further disaggregate that data this year. In this year’s report card, lone mother-led families had higher rates of child poverty than sole father-led families (37.8 per cent versus 28.7 per cent), and these rates are much higher than for children living in families with two parents (9.9 per cent).
Child Poverty Varies Depending on Where You Live
Our annual report cards are also able to show how the poverty rates vary by geography, from large census areas to much smaller geographic units, which reveals that rates vary quite substantially in both urban and rural areas. The child poverty rates are highest in Digby (27.3 per cent), Annapolis (25.7 per cent), and Cape Breton (24.8 per cent) when considering Census Areas.
Twelve postal areas have child poverty rates of 30 per cent and higher.
The range of rates is quite significant, from a low of 5.1 per cent in Upper Tantallon, part of the Halifax Regional Municipality, to a high of 60 per cent in the postal area of Micmac, which includes part of the Sipekne'katik First Nations.
Higher incidence of poverty for racialized children, immigrant children and Indigenous children
This report card includes 2021 Census data and thus can provide some additional disaggregated poverty rates that underline systemic inequalities that are necessary to address. The poverty rate for racialized children in NS (29.5 per cent) was almost double the rate for non-racialized children (15.8 per cent). The highest poverty rate for racialized children is 56.9 per cent of Korean children (23.5 per cent in Canada), and the second highest was 55.2 per cent of Arab children (26.3 per cent of Arab children in Canada). The poverty rate for Black children in Nova Scotia was 27.6 per cent (also higher than the Canadian rate of 18.6 per cent).
The data also show that Indigenous children (living on and off First Nations reserves) are more at risk of poverty than others. Those living on reserve in Nova Scotia had a child poverty rate of 43.5 per cent compared to 16.5 per cent of non-indigenous children. The rate for those living off reserve was 22.4 per cent.
The poverty rate for immigrant children in Nova Scotia is 32.6 per cent, more than double that of non-immigrant children (15.9 per cent). This rate is significantly higher than the national average (18.8 per cent), meaning they are more likely to live in poverty if they immigrate to Nova Scotia.
Urgency to End Child Poverty Remains
We should celebrate the reduction in child poverty in 2020. However, by all accounts, poverty is worse today. The pandemic benefits that made the difference were temporary. Since 2021, people have had to deal with the steep increase in prices for essentials, including housing, food, and heating. Even with the added temporary benefits, people living in poverty had total welfare incomes thousands of dollars below the poverty line. The increases in income assistance and the NS Child Benefit since 2020 will do little to help lift people out of poverty.
No one in our province should be living in poverty. Poverty is damaging, first and foremost, for those struggling with it, but it is also bad for our communities and society. We all lose out when people cannot contribute to their fullest potential. The impact can be long-lasting for many generations when so many children live in poverty.
The 2021 Nova Scotia Minister of Community Service’s mandate letter says they must “work across Departments to establish a five-year target for the reduction of childhood poverty in the Province.” No government target to reduce child poverty has been announced. No child living in poverty should have to wait.