Working poor in Prince Edward Island struggle to fill the fridge and cupboards

Jim Day
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Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, author of Household Food Insecurity in Canada, says the working poor in P.E.I. need "a living wage'' to end the constant struggle they face to put enough food on their plates. 

The majority of people going hungry in P.E.I. are working for a living, albeit a meager one.

Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, the author of Household Insecurity in Canada, says her report found 15.4 per cent of households in Prince Edward Island suffer from some sort of food insecurity, compared to the national average of 12.3 per cent.

The vast majority of that group — roughly 84 per cent — is the province’s working poor, well above the national average of 61 per cent in this category.

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“Many households working at low wages manage because they have more than one earner in the family,’’ says Tarasuk, who spoke in Charlottetown this week on the issue of food insecurity.

“It’s devastating for a family if they have only one earner and that earner is forced to earn something akin to minimum wage.’’

There are many here that fit that bill. In 2011, over half (53 per cent) of lone parent, female-led families were food insecure in P.E.I.

“That’s substantially higher than we see across the country,’’ says Tarasuk.

Tarasuk, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and the Dalla Lama School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, describes food insecurity as inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints. She notes an abundance of research suggests when families are really feeling the pinch, adults will often deprive themselves of food as a way to spare their children.

“We see it repeatedly in the national survey data that adults are more likely to bear the brunt of the nutritional compromise,’’ she says.

Still, many children in P.E.I. live in homes with shelves and refrigerators containing at best modest food supplies.

In 2011, more than one out of every four children under 18 was living in food-insecure households in this province leaving P.E.I. with the second worst rate of food insecurity among families with children in the country.

While Tarasuk calls school breakfast programs, food banks and soup kitchens “important initiatives,’’ she is quick to point out they fall well short of fixing the problem of so many Islanders eating an inadequate quantity and quality of food.

“On the outside looking in, you get the impression that if someone goes hungry they can go to a food bank,’’ she says.

“Well, actually, the vast majority of them will never set foot in a food bank and other research that we and others have done would say that even if they do they’re quite likely to still go hungry.’’

Tarasuk says the working poor simply need better pay.

“Wages need to be a living wage for sure,’’ she says.

“Raising minimum wage by a dollar or two an hour...that’s not going to fix this problem because this problem is bigger than a dollar or two. Prince Edward Island needs to start somewhere to tackle this problem of working poor.’’

She adds P.E.I. and other provinces need to reconcile the social assistance programs. She holds up as a model worth following Newfoundland’s dramatic drop in food insecurity levels resulting in part to interventions on social assistance.

“They index benefits to inflation which is absolutely critical,’’ says Tarasuk.

“Food prices are rising. Shelter costs are rising. And to have benefits of any sort, whether it is a tax credit or a social assistance payment that is sitting flat line, is just a recipe for a food insecurity.’’

Organizations: Department of Nutritional Sciences, Dalla Lama School of Public Health, University of Toronto

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada, Charlottetown Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Betty Watters ( Atkinson )
    May 07, 2014 - 20:22

    Hi Valarie I am your cousin , Your grandmother, Ada and my mom , Elsie were sisters , hope to hear from you ?

  • Jim
    September 30, 2013 - 07:08

    It's obvious the government has insufficient interest in the problem, maybe businesses that profit from low wages could contribute. Barring that notion Islanders who do care could simply support only companies that make contributions for the procurement of locally produced food.

  • it was me
    September 29, 2013 - 13:18

    I was one of the "working poor" who was struggling to make ends meet. I would spend every night looking over my bills and thought for sure that there was no way to make the numbers work. I then looked into some credit counselling strategies and have completely revamped my entire lifestyle, including my bank account. They helped me identify where I was spending money I didn't need to be spending. I turned off my internet and cable, picked up library memberships (where we now borrow books and videos for entertainment), turned off my home phone, found a better cell phone deal, and stopped using my credit cards completely. I took my children out of organized sports and took them to the park and the rink instead for much needed physical activity. As a family, we worked together to reduce electricity in the house and decreased our average monthly bill by $15 a month. I planned my meals in a way where I could buy in bulk and reduce food waste. I wanted to have a garden, but I was renting and they wouldn't allow it. I learned about home-made products and started making my own for fractions of what store-bought products cost (moisturizers, deodorants, make up, etc). We made home-made gifts for birthdays and Christmas. We organized our week so that we made fewer trips in the car and started walking when we could, and reduced our gas by half. Most importantly, I started putting money away from each pay check, no matter what, into a savings account and refused to touch it. It was not easy--it really wasn't--but now it seems second-nature. I started this about two years ago and have now saved enough for a down payment on a small house. I urge people who are struggling to seek out some credible help--avoid the scams and the money grabbers-- and let someone help you get your finances organized. It made a world of difference in my life. Good luck!

  • Maintenance Enforcement
    September 29, 2013 - 12:00

    A big reason for this issue is the maintenance enforcement program across the island. Single parents rarely get help collecting the child support due. Maintenance enforcement turns a blind eye and does not follow the Federal rules that are strictly enforced across the rest of the country. A best you'll get lip service that "they will get to your case in a year or two" When they do get around to it, you get something like " he or she's having a rough time too, so there's nothing much we can do". Complete B. S. in all the other provinces they use the powers they have (which supersede the CRA) and force the payments or garnishment. They'll seize property, drivers license, tax refunds and whatever it takes to make the deadbeat take responsibility for their children. In my case I'm $40,000+ behind in court ordered ( by the Federal tables and law) child support and they won't do a thing about it. I've met dozens like me and none get any help from government to just follow the rules that are already in place. Get deadbeats to pay what they should and some of the single parent issues with food will solve itself. PEI is a deadbeat spouse paradise to avoid your responsibilities.

  • Donald C
    September 29, 2013 - 11:52

    the working poor are not alone seniors are also having a hard time with cost to live here in PEI gas prices are to high gov tax,s on gas keeps the prices on everything going up seniors can,t efford to live in there homes can,t efford oil to heat those homes when is gov going to look for ways to bring costs down and its time the Feds start giving the seniors a big enough raise in there pensions so they can live a normal life they should be a ashamed of how they are expected there seniors to live on what they get in there old age penions maybe its time gov members try to live one yr on what is paid to low wage earners and the seniors of Canada maybe just maybe then something wouldbe done to help the most needed people in this county the rich get richer and no one cares about the poor election time is coming we well remember all gov how the feds are treating the poorer people of Canada

  • Don Condon
    September 29, 2013 - 11:25

    the working poor are not alone seniors are also having a hard time with cost to live here in PEI gas prices are to high gov tax,s on gas keeps the prices on everything going up seniors can,t efford to live in there homes can,t efford oil to heat those homes when is gov going to look for ways to bring costs down and its time the Feds start giving the seniors a big enough raise in there pensions so they can live a normal life they should be a ashamed of how they are expected there seniors to live on what they get in there old age penions maybe its time gov members try to live one yr on what is paid to low wage earners and the seniors of Canada maybe just maybe then something wouldbe done to help the most needed people in this county the rich get richer and no one cares about the poor election time is coming we well remember how the feds are treating the poorer people of Canada

  • grateful
    September 28, 2013 - 21:11

    Take a hike don...I bet you can do a better job eh? STHU loser. I know families that are "working poor" and they struggle. My friends and I help as much as we can....it is hard to watch and I am grateful that I have food. Robert Ghiz or any other politician is not responsible for the out come of my life. We all have choices. Even the "working poor"...... stay in school....an education helps.

    • SLIPPY
      September 29, 2013 - 12:11

      @grateful, I agree that everyone has to be responsible for their own lives and situation, the one caveat, is that we are talking about people who get up every day and go to work. Even as they may or may not strive for something with higher pay, someone has to do these jobs, and they deserve to be paid a fair wage for them. When you have a poor economy, employers have an advantage, because people who want to work, will work for lower wages.

    • Anti -Natalist
      September 30, 2013 - 07:28

      Take a hike gratful . You should have been around to tell your friends not to impose life on their children that they have FAILED to plan and provide for and now have burdened the rest of society with . This is not the 18th century so don't chose to selfishly procreate like it is .

  • Harold
    September 28, 2013 - 20:10

    I now know why Mike Redmond is proposing a school lunch program. This news about 1/4 of all kids coming from poor families with not much food is an embarrassment. And Ghiz throws our tax dollars at his construction buddies & immigrant investment at his political buddies. And then Ghiz and Myers and their good ol' boy supporters decry a proposed program like free school lunches as a type of socialist conspiracy.... I'd like every one of them to experience real hunger for a week in the winter and see if they'd sing a different tune afterward. Ghazal and Myers and the blue blood wannabes of PEI have no clue.

  • Barley Brewer
    September 28, 2013 - 17:55

    It's important to note that this person is not an economist nor an expert in the PEI economy. She is advocating a massive increase in the minimum wage as if that will put a steak on every plate in PEI. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can't bankrupt convenience stores, restaurants, and small businesses and expect $12 an hour at Wal Mart to solve all of our problems. Unmanageable increases in wage expenses won't create richer employers, it creates higher unemployment. If Maid Marions could afford to pay their staff an extra $3 an hour, do you honestly think they wouldn't do it? Is that really what you think of honest small business owners in PEI? Go back to Toronto you socialist hack.

  • don
    September 28, 2013 - 10:05

    well i know the ghiz gang and his friends has no trouble with buying food now that they take all our tax money and feed them. and to think ghiz said way back when. his government is here for the people.