TORONTO - Half of Canada's First Nations children are living in poverty, triple the national average, according to a new analysis of census statistics that pegs the cost of easing the problem at $580-million a year.
The study by the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives being released Wednesday also paints a grim picture of Metis, Inuit, and non-status Indian children, as well as of children of immigrants and visible minorities.
The analysis of census data from 2006 — the latest year relevant statistics are available — finds one-third of immigrant children and almost one-quarter of visible minority kids live below the low income line.
For other indigenous children — Metis, Inuit, and non-status Indian children — the rate is about 27 per cent.
The overall rate for children who belong to none of those groups is about 12 per cent.
"That half of status First Nation children live in poverty should shock all Canadians," said Patricia Erb, head of the charity Save the Children Canada.
The report points out that poverty is not just a measure of income, noting that status First Nations children often live in communities that are impoverished when it comes to services and infrastructure.
According to the study, indigenous children trail the rest of Canada’s children on practically every measure of well-being: family income, educational attainment, water quality, infant mortality, health, suicide, crowding and homelessness.
"Canada cannot and need not allow yet another generation of indigenous citizens to languish in poverty," the study states.
"Failure to act will result in a more difficult, less productive, and shorter life for indigenous children."
David Macdonald, the economist who co-authored the study for the policy centre, said the situation is even worse in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where almost two out of three status First Nations children live in poverty.
To define the poverty, the analysis uses Statistics Canada's after tax low income measure, which amounts to about $38,000 a year for a family of four.
The report estimates it would cost $7.5 billion a year from either market income or government transfers to bring all children in the country up to the poverty line.
The report suggests that government jurisdiction plays a critical role in the poverty rates, especially for First Nations children.
It urges an increase in federal child benefits but also says the key is to remove barriers to education, training, employment and entrepreneurship.
Study co-author, Daniel Wilson, said the indigenous population is the fastest growing in Canada.
"If we refuse to address the crushing poverty facing indigenous children, we will ensure the crisis of socioeconomic marginalization and wasted potential will continue," Wilson said.