image: Library and Archives Canada
Precarious employment, food security, social services access and transportation issues are not just encountered by Ontarians in the sprawl around Toronto. Proof of that lies in these two efforts by major universities:
Poverty Research Centre set to open in London CTV London video 2:46
A five-part, in depth look at children, poverty and mental health in Hamilton, Ontario is underway at cbc.ca. If the first segment is anything to go by this will be an impressive piece of feature journalism on a very important topic. Even moderate exposure to poverty has implications for community mental health because of its effect on childhood development. Hamilton’s children will be the first generation to grow up there as citizens of a fully post industrial community. Where those children go so goes Hamilton. A picture of the conditions and issues faced by Hamilton’s children is assembled by Denise Davey based upon key statistics and time spent with families. Some of the best cared for of children are found in Hamilton but even newer neighbourhoods “up the mountain” as Hamiltonians say, are home to children in problematic situations.
Another jarring sideswipe to Canada’s self esteem. A World Health Organization report says we aren’t doing enough for pedestrians and cyclists. This is bad news because transportation issues are interweaved with suburban poverty. Easier conditions for walkers and cyclists reflect better designed, pro-social communities but they require well thought out, properly funded infrastructure projects. Walking and cycling is cheap, good for people and contributes to sustainability. A culture of non-motorized transportation doesn’t just stem from accidents of geography like flat land in Holland or warm weather in California, though undoubtedbly these things don’t hurt the cause. Social vision and political will are just as important.
Curiously, we came across a consideration of the report in the section of the Toronto Star that normally concerns itself with automobiles (reviews of new models, road congestion issues and so forth). This is a major section of the weekend edition of the country’s biggest newspaper in terms of readership eyes and advertising revenue and is a double section on Saturday. This weekend, for example, the Wheels section contained a worthless review of a Lambourghini sports car – a psychotic artefact few of us will ever see let alone drive or purchase – yet was unable to completely ignore the WHO report. Maybe this is a sign important messages about liveability, safety and alternatives to the car are sinking in around the Greater Toronto Area?
image: Diplodicus by Heinrich Harber, 1916 via Wikimedia Commons
A direct approach to easing suburban poverty would seem to be found in wages. If suburban poverty is about precarious employment in dispersed, lower wage jobs, thin transportation resources, weak access to social services, and lack of affordable and appropriate housing options then why wouldn’t wages be a good place to start? In the UK a movement for living wages is edging into the national debate just as the country appears poised for brutal austerity and economic contraction which will be very difficult for the poor. Certainly, the idea of living wages has been kicking around social policy circles in most developed countries for decades and perhaps the economic craziness of the last few years has brought it forward.
In Canada, we see British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University adopt living wages as a specific policy …and finding itself able to afford to do so. It seems a sensible argument can be made that living wages are good for people and what is good for people is good for business. The very idea of a minimum wage is simply obsolete. Not only can few live on them but business interests and their lobbyists, at least in English-speaking countries, tend to take offence to notions of raising minimum wages. It’s harder to argue against living wages, which are an expression of justice in an age where a job doesn’t protect you from being poor.
CBC’s The National visited Hamilton, ON in 2012 to look at what a transition from minimum to living wages might mean. That clip, and other material, is available on the Living Wage Hamilton site.
Beyond the Bottom Line: Challenges and Opportunities of the Living Wage
77-page .pdf file resolutionfoundation.org January 2013
image: Bundesarkiv via Wikimedia Commons
The hollowed out nature of many working lives in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area is the subject of a new report from McMaster University Social Sciences and the United Way. Using Statistics Canada data, interviews and previous United Way research the authors delve into one of the major determinants of the quality of life in Ontario: precarious employment. This should be a major embarrassment to the system. Working people with serious intentions who do their part remain in poverty or in fear of poverty. They work for cash, have intermittent, insecure employment arrangements in the form of limited hours of work, temporary and on-call status and a weak grip on wages let alone pensions and benefit plans. Even university lecturers live this way. The result is a depressing under-utilization of human capital and a reduction in the resilience of our society and a reduction in the standard of living. Precarious employment places a negative slant on nearly all aspects of the individual’s life and these effects become manifest in the public realm. The 120-page report is available at the link below in .pdf format. If any single issue in the life of this province needs to be brought out of obscurity for clarification and remedy it is this one. The Toronto Star devoted a good amount of space to the report with numerous personal profiles. Other mainstream media outlets have covered the report but its release just before the mindless hype and over commentary driven by the Oscars may not have been such a hot idea.
It’s more than poverty: employment precarity and household well-being
Insecure Jobs Destabilize Communities
United Way press release
Half of GTA and Hamilton workers in ‘precarious’ jobs
Toronto Star – see profiles link on left navigation
PEPSO: population and employment precarity in southern Ontario
image: unemployed single men’s march in 1930s Toronto – via Wikimedia Commons
Twinned with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a shared heritage of steel making, the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario also grapples with the kinds of changes many cities in North America are facing. In the piece linked below, a Hamilton blogger and transit acitivist relates the issues of suburban change and decline to his city of just over 500,000 people at the western end of Lake Ontario. It’ll be interesting to compare how post-industrial Hamilton evolves in comparison to Toronto, the sprawling super-suburbanized mega city to the east. Whatever path Hamilton follows will be instructive to the whole region, both sides of the border.
We may be on the edge of an epochal migration Raise The Hammer