Thanks very much for the opportunity to meet with you and speak with you. I appreciate it.
You may or may not know that Campaign 2000 is a cross-Canada network of organizations holding the government's feet to the fire on ending child and family poverty. It comes from the November 24, 1989, resolution where the House of Commons unanimously agreed to seek to end child and family poverty.
We're broad. We include low-income women and children, housing, child care, health care providers, as well as food banks, faith communities, women's groups, and labour organizations. You may well be familiar with our annual report card that we do every year, in French and English, marking progress or the lack thereof, and offering our recommendations for what needs to happen in public policies.
I was interested and pleased to hear some of the similarities I share with Carol Stephenson. I won't go on for too long except to say that I too had the role models of a working mother and working grandmother. I had a mother who said, “Get an education if you want to have choices”, as she didn't; being a single parent in the 1930s was not very popular.
Today we're here to talk about prospects for girls and women. I just want to open by saying that the prospects for low-income girls and young women in Canada are inextricably related to the status of their mothers, not surprisingly. When mothers struggle to pay the rent and feed the children, then girls often miss opportunities. They may not have the scope to develop a vision for the future, and often don't see those choices. As a few women have told me in different consultations, “I can't imagine taking on the debt I would have to take on to go to post-secondary education.” And some of these women have the academic qualifications to do so.
I'll give you a couple of quick facts. We have 639,000 children living in poverty, according to most recent Statistics Canada figures. That's about one in ten, about the size of Regina and Saskatoon together, I believe. And that does not reflect the situation in first nations communities, where about one in four children live in poverty, often in mother-led families.
So let's say that mothers carry a disproportionately high burden of child and family poverty. As you may know, women raising children alone are almost five times more likely to live in poverty than those in two-parent families. More than half of female lone-parent families with young children under six live in poverty.
As Monica Townson sometimes says—you may know her, as she's a well-known economist—“Gender creates a cleavage of vulnerability that cuts across all other groups”, including others who are in vulnerable populations; our aboriginal peoples; people in racialized communities; recent immigrants, about three-quarters of whom are from racialized communities; and persons with disabilities.
I want to talk a little bit about two critical perspectives on girls and women in poverty—how they're treated when they're in paid employment and the situation they find themselves in when they're not—and offer a few recommendations.
As you probably know, women who work full time throughout the year still only earn about 71% of the average earnings of men working full time. The gap's even greater when we look at hourly wages. Of course, since women's wages are on average lower, it's much harder for them to save for retirement. Few women have pensions to rely on.
One result is that one in three children living in poverty in Canada—unfortunately, that's pretty steady, going up or down a little bit over the years—lives in a family where at least one parent is working full time. So clearly the labour market has an important role to play, as do public policies.
Women account for 60% of minimum wage workers, yet among minimum wages across the country, I think the highest is $10.25, in Ontario. It's very difficult to make a decent living. Women are less likely to get EI benefits if they're out of work.
I want to talk about the three critical public policies that low-income women told us they need. I should say that our Ontario campaign did a project in 11 communities across the province, everywhere from Pembroke to Windsor, Ottawa, Toronto, the suburbs, Sault Ste. Marie, including aboriginal communities, and many of our newcomer communities in the GTA.
They were all low-income women. Some relied mostly on social assistance, and some on a combination of that and work. Some were in various stages of paid employment. They said they needed three things. They needed income security. They needed to know that they were somehow going to be able to balance that budget each month, pay the rent, feed the children, and if they were lucky have some choices.
I want to emphasize that public programs play an extremely important role, because as we know, the labour market does not distinguish between women who are parents and women who are not. Programs like the Canada child tax benefit, the GST credit, the UCCB, and employment insurance help prevent families from falling into poverty. They help give some support during periods of economic instability. There's a chart in our report card—perhaps you'll refer to it at some point—showing that our child and family poverty rate would be much higher if we didn't have a number of the programs I just mentioned.
But a pathway out of poverty for a lone parent today has to include a higher child benefit. Ideally our “back of the envelope” statistics show that a lone parent with one child needs full-time work of somewhere between 32 and 35 hours a week, at least $12 an hour, and a full child benefit of $5,400. So that's a little more than $400 a month, which for some people would help balance off the tax and payroll contributions they make. Right now our benefits are about $3,485 as a maximum for the first child, and we want to see that go up.
We know that low- and modest-income women need that money to live on. That money goes back into communities in the form of rent; high child care fees, if they're lucky enough to have child care; food; if they can, maybe some recreation expenses; and of course, clothing. So we're going to recommend that the enhanced child benefit for low-income families go up to $5,400. Of course, that's a progressive benefit, where if you have less, you get more. Yet it would cover about 90% of all children. If you have a higher income you would get less benefit, but it does recognize parenting.
Parents and mothers also told us they needed more and better affordable, high-quality child care. Despite some growth in regulated services over the last couple of decades, and Canada's shrinking number of children, the gap between the level of service and the number of children remains far too wide. As you all know, we have one of the highest rates of women in the labour force in the OECD, in the industrialized world, yet we have no well-developed public child care program to respond to that. We have some good examples. We have some important development in Quebec and Manitoba, and some movement in other provinces.
Campaign 2000 partners across the country believe there is an important federal role in early childhood education and care services to set the policy framework and fund some of it. It's in our social development interest. It's in the interest of women's equality, and it's in our economic interest.
You probably saw there was another study last week from Quebec economists showing that the system of les centres de la petite enfance for preschool children in Quebec more than pays for itself as a result of 14 or 15 years of development of the program. A higher rate of women are in the labour force paying more taxes and contributing more actively to the economy, and the child care program has a lot to do with it.
What we're saying in this time of very tight funding—