Nanaimo has a serious problem with poverty
Gordon Fuller — June 28, 2010
Letter to the Editor: The Daily News
So once again B.C. tops the provinces for the highest child poverty rates in Canada.
Since coming to power in 2001, the provincial government has ensured this dubious and continuous honour for British Columbia.
While the child poverty numbers may have dropped across B.C., it is important to note the statistics this is based on are from the boom times of 2007, they in no way reflect the reality of today in Nanaimo.
At 9% Nanaimo has one of the highest unemployment rates in the province. This is based on employable income assistance and employment insurance recipients.
It does not take into account the many income assistance recipients categorized as persons with persistent multiple barriers, persons with disability or the many families that are exempt from searching for work if they have a child under the age of three.
With all of the above we are looking at over well over 13,000 people.
Nanaimo’s overall poverty rate, when one takes into account low income cut offs, the income a person or family needs to be categorized above the poverty line, or based on a person or family spending more than 30% of their income on housing, would put poverty rates at close to 50% for the population in Nanaimo.
Don’t get me wrong, and lest I paint too bleak a picture, Nanaimo is a great place to live overall and its citizens would likely be well above average when it comes to volunteerism and giving back to the community.
It is an interesting observation, I wonder how many Canadians from coast to coast actually would fall into the same category if for example credit card spending were suspended. I am certain there are many households where more than 30% of income is used for housing. BTW, what are you including in housing costs? Do you include utilities as well as mortgage/rent payments? And is the 30% figure taken in relation to net or gross income?
What do you see as a solution to the poverty issue?
30% of Gross income on Rent or Mortgage payments, utilities and other essentials are not included.
Low income has been recognized as the single most significant indicator of health status, putting adults and children at a higher risk of poor physical and mental health, involvement in crime, and unemployment. Most low-income families have gross incomes that are thousands of dollars below the poverty line
2008 Before-Tax Low-Income Cut-Offs for a city the size of Nanaimo were as follows; a family of 1 -$18,900, 2 – $23,600, 3 – $29,000, 4 – $35,200 and increasing by approximately $5,000 per person. Low income cut-offs (LICOs) are by far Statistics Canada’s most established and widely recognized approach to estimating low income. In short, a LICO is an income threshold below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income on the necessities of food, shelter and clothing than the average family.
• Raising income assistance rates to account for the actual cost of healthy food and safe housing and indexing rates to the cost of living
• Raising the minimum wage to a level that supports an individual working full-time, full-year with an income above Statistics Canada low-income cut-off in a major urban centre
• Supporting a wide range of initiatives, including working with Federal & Municipal authorities, to ensure all British Columbians have access to safe and affordable housing
• Supporting initiatives that increase access to healthy food for all British Columbians, especially those living in rural and remote communities, or for whom access to food is difficult
• Building a system of high quality, affordable, accessible child care
On my blog, http://www.gordonfuller.blogspot.com , you can find more information with regards to Nanaimo from a presentation I have done in schools and elsewhere.
Gordon: Good stuff here and your own blog. This is the kind of discussion needed which might lead to some changes in attitudes which are required in order to initiate changes in action. Your list of alternative approaches is especially cogent. While I am too much of a conservative to want to see income support levels constantly rising as this always turns out to be a little like chasing one’s own tail, we dearly need to both decrease living costs and to reward work at a living wage level. I would suggest, for example, that there are a number of ways in which housing costs are increased unreasonable by codes which exceed necessity and should be changed.
I don’t disagree with the obvious problem, however, the solution is what I find considerably trickery.
Raising income assistance, of course means raising more taxes, and since federally we have already spent $500 Billion we don’t have, I wonder how much more debt we can pass on to the next generation.
Is it possible for the government to adjust it’s spending in order to fund increased income assistance, without further raising taxes? For example, would it be possible to roll back the levels of pay currently being paid to the considerable civil service in this country so the gap is not as great as it currently is? How about CUPE members, would they be willing to see their wages reduced by say 10% to help fund increased social assistance?
On the matter of increasing the minimum wage so that a person working ‘full time’, ‘full year’ earns above the low-income cut-off.
If ‘full time’ is 37.5 hrs. per week, I wonder what would happen if the person defined full time as, say 60 hrs. per week? When I was a young guy, we worked 60 hour weeks, and thought nothing of it. Then when I started working for myself, if I ONLY had to work 60 hours, I thought I was on vacation.
Building a system of high quality, child care. I’m old fashioned enough to think that job can best be filled by Mom and Dad. The problem of needing a dual income is another matter.
I think part of the problems we have created are because we keep asking ‘government’ to solve all our problems. They simply can’t do it, and just throwing more money at the problem is not the solution.
There is also an underlying philosophical question; is the problem that people do not earn enough money, or is the problem that the basics such as food and shelter should not be subject to the whims of a free market system? If you own real estate, or if you rent, your opinion on the later is likely to be different.
As said at the outset, we are in full agreement about the need to solve the problem, the ‘how’ is where I don’t think it is as simple as you might think.
Jim: You raise so many basic questions that it is hard to know where to start, but perhaps we could begin by defining who it is who should be subsidized from the general purse.
First we have those who for mental or physical reasons (I don’t think we need to entertain arguments about how these are defined at this time) are simply not capable of earning any income. What we are to do for them?
Next come those who have the same but less extreme problems and need help but not are not totally dependant. How do we ensure that they are usefully and gainfully occupied; and how supplemented and, where possible, given the opportunity to need less assistance?
Next comes the real problem category: those who are capable of working but are quite willing to let others support them. It is convenient to throw everybody who gets support into this category as it salves our consciences considerably. It is true that we need some way to stimulate activity in this category even though it is small.
Then we have those who can and do work, but whose wages do not provide sufficient income to meet basic required costs for food, shelter, clothing and health. Why is our system which is, at its base, so dependent upon this group so willing to dismiss them? This is the category most hit by increases in taxation to subsidize the categories beneath them as they are already on the margin of need. This is patently not fair. Nor is it fair to hit them with living requirements which are generated primarily for the benefit of the the comfortable categories above them which have had their incomes inflated far more and much faster than those below.
I would hold that we do need some definition of “enough”; of a standard of living that is sufficient and the existence of both jobs and wages which, given a “normal” work week, will meet that standard. I would hold that there are many useful services which could be performed to provide jobs. Those who may have lived in third world countries have seem services performed which we disdain, but provide employment. Those who have either the inclination or the ability can, of course, exceed that value.
To those who hold that it is a dog eat dog world, I would suggest that you visit countries where this situation is present in the context of the modern technological world. Where once the battle of the fittest might have been relatively equal for all participants, organization has brought about inequalities which doom the majority and aggrandize the minority.
I won’t discuss the higher categories, those who live in excess, as they can take care of themselves very nicely whether from superior ambition, effort or, very often, simple happenstance.
Ron, in a lot of ways I too am a conservative. If you look at the definition of Poverty Pimp what group comes to mind first? For me it is Governme followed by groups like the Salvation Army.
There have been numerous studies that show by housing the homeless there is a savings of between 8 and 18,000 dollars per person. These saving come from less use of the hospital system, criminal justice system and others. Shelters, in BC, receive a perdiem of btewewen $100.00 and $150.00 per bed. One could put folk in motels for far less. Housing is perhaps the biggest issue and by providing social and supportive housing all levels of government will see savings in the longrun. My guess on this issue alone based on a homeless poputation across Canada of 250,000 and a savings of say S15,000 per person housed the savings is #3,750,000,000. A considerable sum yearly.
I mention the S/A, they have such a huge Bureaucracy they are almost as bad as the government. A Nanaimo example: I was told by one of the local high level uniform wearing managers that the budget for both their lunch and dinner programs is $500,000, they serve between both approximately 170 meals per day. The 7-10 Club which does a hot breakfast and bag lunch serves approximately 250 meals per day with a budget of $110,000. Many of the S/A programs recieve huge government dollars but provide just enough of a service to keep people in need of the service. The S/A are not the only ones out there doing this. Don’t get me wrong there are some things they do that help and most of the people who volunteer are doing it for the right reasons.
Quality Daycare would allow many single parents to further their education and get better paying jobs thus paying more taxes. Increased wages would allow families to live better and pay more taxes. An inexpensive post secondary education would allow people to get better paying jobs and pay more taxes. Notice the theme here.
Those that live off the public purse simply because they can are the minimum, less than 1% would be my guess.
Some other things are really no brainers as well. Quality daycare; the person or family
Jim, you say government can’t solve the problem? I say they can and we the people, all of the people, would actually benefit in the longrun. The problem is there needs to be the political will on all levels to do so.
I’m finding I need to update my perspective on issues of class and income disparity and that kind of stuff… We’ve known in our lifetimes a world where life was affordable and opportunities were plentiful. What changed that world to one of McJobs, child poverty and the basics of shelter and groceries, nevermind getting ahead and putting the kids through university, are out of reach for many families?
I’ve said before that it seems to be an even more dramatic gap between haves and have nots in Nanaimo. I’m liking this conversation because you can’t talk about urban planning or City Hall fiscal management without some understanding of the underlying class and income disparity realities, seems to me.
I accept that this situation is the creation of the federal government and the result of economic policies that haven’t benefited all as they were supposed to do. So, I don’t see it as government solving this problem but dealing with the consequences of their economic engineering of the last 30 or 40 years. They had some successes and produced the longest stretch of economic growth in history but it sure left a lot of people behind, didn’t it.
I’m thinking we have a blueprint in our existing social programs. When they were introduced there was much opposition to them. Now the backstop of unemployment insurance and a small government pension at 60 or 65, medical insurance etc have contributed to economic enfranchisement of the previously marginalized that the larger economy has benefited from.
We may have forgotten that these were experimental programs not long ago. They have in common the use of the insurance model and universality. They may offer the framework for making a dint in affordable housing and the eradication of child poverty.
Gord, I say the government does not have the answers because the root cause can not simply be fixed with some more money and social workers.
Since the government is ‘we the people’ it seems a no brainer that it is we the people that have created this problem in the first place.
For example, instead of looking to government to take care of our kids and family members, what role and responsibility does the family have to play in all of this?
Creating state run day care (babysitting) does not address the issue of what happened to the family that is charged with raising their children? Why are there so many ‘single’ parent families? It seems to me, you solve that problem and child care takes care of itself.
Single parents being able to further their education (presumes they have the will and ability) does not address the problem of why they did not avail themselves of the free education before starting to raise a family?
Why do we have a society that produces people who feel they should start raising kids before they can provide for them?
I think that basically society is badly bent, if not broken completely and it did not just happen over night. A government made up of badly bent people, is not going to solve the problem either.
I believe some of the points I am raising speak to the REAL reason behind the problems, which government and more social workers, are simply not capable of solving.
In any case, you did not address where the funds are to come from to throw more money at the problem. A $500 Billion debt is not exactly a fantastic legacy to hand to the next generation.
You raise some good points Jim. I particularly like “society is badly bent” and I would have agree with you there. I hazard to guess that this problem has been going on for centuries and is nothing new. People seem to have this mistaken belief that families in the fifties were of the Beaver and Ozzie & Hariet type, problem is disfunctional relationshipds are not a relatively new phenomena.
Daycare is realy a huge one, not in my opinion as huge as housing, in that single parent or not most families now have to hold down two or three jobs just to make ends meet. If the cost of daycare was subsidized then families could provide more to their children and I ain’t talkin about electronics. I was talking to someone this morning at the 7-10 Club who is looking for work and mentioned that most of what is out there is minimum wage and part time. Told him that in the mid 70’s I was making $8.00 an hour, which seemed to me at the time a pretty good wage. I have to wonder how much the cost of living has increased in those years and the relationship with comparitive wages.
Seems to me that if the government can save over 3 billion a year just by housing people how much more could be saved by taking other steps. Hey it could even eventually help to eliminate government debt.
There is an overused saying that many in the Social Service Field often quote, ” it takes a village to raise a child.” So yes I agree it is not up to just the different levels of government to fix the problem, it starts and home and then works its way through all systems.
ooooo…. the rich people are talking about poverty again! Seems like you’ve lived in your ivory towers too long to realize what happened to our jobs. You wring your hands over the problem of poverty, yet you don’t seem to realize that it’s the folks who are planted between the government and the poor who are sapping all the money. It’s all well and good to discuss poverty theoretically when you don’t actually know what it’s like to be poor.
You want to know what changed the world from good jobs to McJobs? Free Trade did us in. Once companies were allowed to move their manufacturing operations from places like Canada where we used to have fair wages and worker protection to places like Mexico, Vietnam, Bangladesh, China, etc. our economy started changing. The good paying manufacturing jobs melted away and left us with low paying service jobs.
That’s not the only problem facing poverty stricken Canadians. Canada does spend a lot of money on social programs and throwing more money at the problem isn’t the solution. The problem with every social program available in Canada is the amount of people and wages going towards them instead of to the people who need it most.
For example: You lose your job and need a hand up, how many people are going to benefit from you? Well, first there are the people who work at EI who process your claim. Then you have to go to an information session at the EI office – more money spent. Sometimes they send you to an outside organization like Supporting Employment Transitions, so that you can learn about how to do a job search, make a resume, talk to employers (all of which information is available for free on the internet these days). So, more people have just made money off you. Sometimes, SET sends you to another program for wage subsidy, or additional education. That’s a bunch more people making money off your misfortune. Not only that, they’ve taken a lot of time away from you that you could have spent talking to potential employers and looking for work. At this point a lot of tax dollars have been spent on you and you still don’t even have a job. Heaven forbid if you’re disabled or have other problems because that’s more money going into more pockets that’s not benefitting you directly.
Poverty is a vicious circle. Once you’ve slipped below the line, or had the misfortune to grow up under that line, it’s very hard to get out. What a lot of people don’t understand is how time-consuming poverty is. If you don’t have a car you’re screwed – especially in Nanaimo. Hop in your car it takes you ten – fifteen minutes to get to Woodgrove. Take the bus, it could take you from half-an-hour to an hour each way. What could you do in two hours time? A lot! And yet, that’s what you sanctimonious jackasses did to a lot of people in the South End. You didn’t want big box stores cluttering up downtown Nanaimo. You wanted a bunch of overpriced boutiques that catered to the tourist business so you could have a pretty, “unique” downtown. I’ve never set foot in most of those stores. One look at the prices and I’m out of there.
Anyway, getting back on track. Poverty is time-consuming. If you can’t afford a car, you spend more time getting around. If you can’t afford a deep freeze, you have to spend more time shopping instead of buying things in bulk. If you can’t afford a dishwasher or vacuum cleaner or washing machine, you spend more time cleaning. You see where I’m going with this. When you are spending most of your time of the basics of everyday life, it takes away time to study, get an education. How many hours a week can you devote to a job when you’re a single parent, the cupboards are bare and the children are hungry? You work and work you ass off but never get ahead. The rents go up. The price of food goes up. But the wages stay the same.
You try to get a little help, but so many times it’s not appropriate to your particular needs. And at the end of the day all the government and agencies that have government work contracted out to them – their workers go home in their shiny cars that are paid for by the tax dollars that theoretically go towards helping the poor, and disabled and homeless unfortunates. And you walk home, or settle in for a long bus ride back to that never-ending treadmill you call your life. Meanwhile the folks up in their ivory towers tsk-tsk to themselves about the poverty stats they read about in their newspapers, then turn the page to something more interesting.
Survivor, you make excellent points about the vicious cycle and the treadmill you call life.
It may or may not surprise you to know that a whole lot of those ivory tower inhabitants with their shiny new cars, are about two pay cheques away from social assistance themselves.
And while their treadmill may look lovely from your point of view, don’t be too quick to wish you could trade them places.
BTW I hope you don’t think the people on this blog are uncaring jackasses.
I’ve had more than a few people tell me they’re about two paycheques away from poverty. But then I look at their lifestyles and wonder if they’re really that close?
People in our society think they need a lot more than they actually do. A lot of income is wasted on consumer goods that aren’t actually necessary.
Two mortgage payments away from social assistance? How much of a house do you really need? I’ve been watching as families get smaller while houses get bigger. But I’ve rarely see people downsize, because they “need” all that room to store all the stuff they’ve accumulated.
And how many vehicles does a family really need? Do the kids really need their own? Do you need the extra large size vehicle for hauling things once a year?
Let’s get down to the smaller things? You’re not two paycheques away from social assistance if you’re buying all your clothes new, even if you’re just buying cheap clothes from Wal-mart. Paying for quality that poor means you’re just paying more in the long run as clothes wear out faster. And who really needs to change their wardrobe every season? Just because something is not fashionable anymore doesn’t mean it’s not wearable. People used to have just a couple of changes of clothes. Now a walk-in closet isn’t big enough for the wardrobes many people have.
And how many people think they need the latest gadgets, the cell phones, the iPods, the video games, etc. to entertain the children? Those things aren’t necessary to life. Every kid has to have a cell phone? Not needed, just wanted. Another drain on the income that’s not necessary.
Who really needs cable TV, magazine subscriptions, gym memberships, and other frivolities? I’ve had people tell me they’re two paycheques away from social assistance but they’re on the way to the gym to maintain their hot body so they can wear that new outfit to go clubbing later. I think they’re missing the difference between poor choices and true poverty.
It’s not about being two paycheques away from social assistance because they don’t make enough money. It’s that the money they make are wasted on non-essentials so they can maintain a certain lifestyle.
A lot of that lifestyle is not actually paid for, it exists only because of credit cards.
I agree just about everyone buys stuff they really don’t need. That would also include items like alcohol and tobacco and lotto tickets, meals out and so on.
So, why do we do it?
What do you suppose would happen if everyone in North America chose to only buy what they absolutely needed for the next year?
What would you do with all those people who make all that stuff, who transport all that stuff, who retail all that stuff, who would have nothing to do?
As to making poor choices, it is not just the ivory tower dwellers who are guilty of that, it also applies to those on the other end of the economic spectrum.
In the food service business there is an phenomenon called ‘welfare Wednesday’; and that is the day when the checks get cashed and everyone heads to the Colonels for a bucket of chicken, or Mickie D’s for Big Macs …… that is very poor use of a person’s food dollar. This is not an isolated incident, it is an event as reliable as tomorrow’s sunrise.
Spending money on tobacco and alcohol and lotto tickets is another poor choice of how to use ones financial resources, but many who say they are always broke, put a match to a lot of money every day.
This whole ‘system’ we have put together in the last 60 or 70 years can hardly be called a roaring success. As a nation we are $500 billion in the hole, families live in houses they have not paid for, wear clothes they have not paid for while driving flashy cars they have not paid for and on and on it goes. And somehow, we seem to think we are doing alright.
‘Send in the Clowns’ …… oh wait a minute I think they are already here. :^)
One of the real crimes of poverty is that people are actually sent to jail for being in debt! As an example judges are getting sheriffs to show up at someone’s door and take them to court then jail, just because they are in debt. To make matters worse the judges making these decisions are earning $200,000+ yearly and these judges can’t relate/sympathize with your average Joe in Nanaimo.