Increasingly these days a job is anything but a ticket out of poverty, that is true right across the country but ever more so in Toronto. During the boom years from 2000 to 2005 the number of working people in Toronto who couldn't make ends meet grew by 42%, some six years on and a never ending recession later those numbers have likely skyrocketed. It is interesting to note given the Transit City debate that those rates grew fastest in the areas less served by transit.
The latest Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey shows that even these starvation level jobs are becoming scarcer while Toronto's unemployment rate increased by a 1/3 of a point the labour force dropped by 25%, showing that people are giving up in their search for a job any job. Worse yet as the CIBC report on job quality showed the few jobs that are being created are of declining quality.
Food Banks Canada surveys their members each year and publishes the results on food bank usage in a report titled Hunger Count, the 2011 survey shows that 18% of people accessing food banks in Canada have jobs. The fact that more than 850,000 people a month used food banks in 2011 certainly highlights the breadth of the problem. But even those numbers mask the true scope of the issue, How many more have moved in with relatives or friends,how many are too proud to seek assistance and even more troublesome how many are homeless in the traditional sense,in other words, living on the streets.
“People who live beneath the poverty line are not, to use an unpleasant quote, sitting on a couch drinking beer and eating popcorn. They are, in fact, working,” Senator Hugh SegalThe costs associated with poverty in general both economically and socially are enormous. Like it or not we live in a consumer driven economy and poor people are poor consumers. Those forced to live in poverty also tend to be less healthy due to increased levels of stress ( Try having to worry whether you can pay the rent or feed your kids every waking hour of every day and you would be sick as well) and the lack of access to an affordable healthy diet. Children who go to school hungry tend to under perform leading to increased costs to society again both economic and social.
In the Toronto area, McMaster University professor Wayne Lewchuk says, as much as 45 per cent of the working population could be in non-permanent jobs.
The jobs being created in this"new workplace" also don't provide benefits like extended health meaning that should one become sick the public must pick up the full cost of care. The same is true of pensions, when the working poor are no longer able to work they will have no private pension or savings to rely on meaning again the public will need to pick up the full cost. In short this push to low paying precarious employment amounts to yet another huge corporate subsidy.
Good paying permanent jobs are not likely to return anytime soon, certainly not while the world is planted firmly under the jackboot of neoliberalism. So what to do? Well first and foremost we must start working together instead of fighting each other, this is a war against all working people not just those at the bottom of the pecking order. Everyone's wages and benefits are in decline whether union or not, whether you are skilled or not and no matter what colour your collar.
We can look at moving from the minimum wage to a livable wage concept or better yet bring in a Guaranteed Livable Income program. In the seventies Canada ran a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) pilot project called Mincome. The results were startling. Contrary to what everyone thought at the time and still thinks today people receiving the GAI kept working, the exceptions being new mothers and teens, the latter of which stayed in school longer. Visits to ERs declined as stress related health issues ebbed and instances of domestic abuse also went down partly due to the reduced stress levels and the fact that the GAI was delivered to the individual meaning that economic factors were removed from the equation when considering whether to stay or leave.
Another way in which we could help lift everyone out of poverty is by providing adequate housing support, something that is not only needed but as a recent study and action plan points out is eminently affordable. The majority of those helped by food banks are renters 63% pay market rent and 22% live in subsidized housing.
Whether we ignore the problems posed by this new normal or we choose to tackle it head on, we pay no matter what. Better that we pay for solutions instead of band aids or worse yet do nothing. Of course having said all that defeating the neoliberals is our best option in the long run.