This article was posted a year ago but is worth repeating because the underlying situation has grown worse.
British Columbia’s child poverty rate is the highest in Canada and the province has ranked first in this dubious category for six straight years. Recent budgets have seen further cuts to social programs affecting youngsters. That causes reductions in direct support to needy families and elimination of before-school and after-school programs assisting the vulnerable. Those effects are made worse by diversions of gaming funds from the needy to the greedy, causing non-profit community agencies to end programs for lack of funding.
The Liberal Government is unmoved by child poverty. Gordon Campbell’s credo is best expressed by the Premier’s statement, “A job is, by far, the best social program you can have.”
He means that sincerely and believes poor children benefit from stern kicks-in-the-ass, the very thing he would have given his own kids if they hadn’t been born rich. Rather than wasting time with schoolwork, sports or music programs, kids living below the poverty line should get a job. Campbell’s government facilitated that by reducing the minimum working age to 12 years and lowering the minimum wage to $6 an hour. They’ve proudly helped these kids in another way too. A child earning less than $9,000 a year pays no provincial income tax.
Early entry into the job force carries double benefits. Families with few resources are appreciative of whatever earnings a child brings home, even if it seems little. More importantly, businesses gain a steady supply of low wage workers. Lower costs make those enterprises more profitable and enables senior executives to earn bonuses and incentives. That leads to higher consumer demand in BC, particularly for luxury goods, and greater economic activity in the province.
However, some people – probably those who don’t care as much as Gordon Campbell about youngsters living in poverty – want to put a stop to child labor. One example is the Sea to Sky Medical Health Officer, Dr. Paul Paul Martiquet. He worries about exploitation and thinks young workers are victimized financially. He also thinks that work interferes with schooling and exposes children to workplace injuries.
However, Dr. Martiquet ignores evidence that early exposure to industrial accidents reduces accidents in later life. For example, one study found that children who lost an arm in sawmill accidents, were only half as likely to suffer loss of a second arm in the same way. However, the casualty rate of novices is significant and worst for the youngest. The provincial government could resolve that negative factor by making children ineligible for Worksafe compensation benefits. That would protect employers from punitive increases in Worksafe premiums.
Dr. Martiquet believes “BC should honour the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: the minimum work age should not be lower than the age for finishing compulsory schooling (15 typically), children may do only light work as long as it does not threaten their health, safety or hinder their education and training.”
Of course, the doctor’s advice will fall on deaf ears in Victoria. There it is understood that free markets should resolve economic matters, free of government interference. Twelve-year-olds find work only if they fill a need of the marketplace. Perhaps the Fraser Institute will produce a definitive study on this situation.
Categories: Fraser Institute