UNICEF gives Canada a passing grade, child poverty actually fell during the recession … or did it?

UNICEF Children of the Recession Innocenti Report Card 12 CoverLet’s see if we can make sense of this.

UNICEF has just given Canada a passing grade, mind you barely a pass, when it comes to the fight against child poverty. In a report released today it claims that 21% of Canadian children live in poverty, nothing to brag about, but at least this is lower than the 23% who were poor just before the recession started in 2008.

Interestingly, Statistics Canada also says child poverty is down, but that only 8.5% of kids are poor. However, at the same time it says child poverty is up, reaching almost 14%. And finally, if this is not confusing enough, it says that, yes, 14% of kids are poor, but this is down since 2008.

Up or down? One-in-five kids poor, or one-in-seven, or maybe even as few as only one-in-eleven?

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UNICEF reports that child poverty in the US was held in check during the Great Recession

UNICEF Children of the Recession Innocenti Report Card 12 CoverIt is an understatement to say that the US welfare reforms of the 1990s were intended to give a little spring to the social safety net.

The intention was much more radical, involving a major make-over of income support, and turning what was imagined as a net ensnarling many Americans behind a welfare wall, into a trampoline, a springboard that would incentivize work and allow them to ride a wave of prosperity to higher incomes that would lift their children out of poverty.

But this is hardly what is needed when times turn bad.

The only virtue of a trampoline when employment falls by more than 8 million, when the unemployment rate more than doubles, and when median incomes drop by over $10,000, is that it catches you on the way down.

American families needed a safety net during the Great Recession, and a report released by UNICEF on child poverty suggests, surprisingly enough, that is exactly what they got.

The rate of child poverty, in spite of all the macroeconomic turbulence of the last six years, has hardly budged. This is in large measure because of discretionary policy changes on the part of the Federal government that quickly turned the clock back to the welfare system of the 1980s.

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The sad, sad story of the UNICEF Child Poverty Report and its critics

David Morely, UNICEF Canada’s Executive Director, has just issued a bold challenge. “It is clearly time for Canada to prioritize children when planning budgets and spending our nation’s resources, even in tough economic times,” says a press release announcing the publication of a report on child poverty.

In fact, the UNICEF Innocenti Report Card released today is the 10th in a regular series on child poverty in rich countries, each report hitting the headlines every second year or so.

Sadly, when it comes to discussions of child poverty kick-started by these reports there are two things that are not new: the conclusions; and the reaction of pundits and many policy makers. I say “sadly” because the two are not linked, and public policy discussion is not the better.

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