Tag Archives: Canada

(317) Durham Region

OshawaThe Regional Municipality of Durham lies directly east of Toronto.  It’s almost a microcosm of Canada in that its 2500 square kilometers encompass serious suburbanization, some heavy industry, much commerical activity, farm land, rolling hills and areas where outdoor recreation including hunting and fishing is commonplace.  By and large the people of Durham Region are among some of the healthiest, best fed and most secure human beings in this unbalanced world.  Starting in the late 2000s, as the real estate/automobile industrial complex, so long the paymaster in Ontario, began to show signs of weirdness in terms of its future performance, a certain amount of poverty has come to be red flagged in Durham Region.

To take the understanding of suburban poverty beyond one-off profiles of people living in it requires detailed investigation and meaningful data attached to real experience.  That makes a recent document from the authorities in Durham of genuine interest.

The Price of Eating Well in Durham Region looks at one of the major impacts on family and personal well-being and concerns elucidated here can be found elsewhere.  The report looks at the cost of a simple, metaphoric basket of nutritious foods for a week for a family of four.  The cost of that metaphoric basket since 2009 has gone up by about $45.  Luckily, Durham appears to be a cheaper place to live than the rest of the province, for which there is also some comparative data.  Either way, about 8% of households in Durham experience food insecurity which generally means lowered quality and amount of food in those households.

Recipients of government support and low wages are under extra pressure in this respect.  More widely, the entire region is vulnerable to increases in energy prices, especially gasoline for personal motor vehicles (oversized, truck-style models are seen in abundance in Durham), and uncertainty exists over the future direction of real estate prices and the encroachment onto farm land of residential development.

The latter might seem a little ironic, the ongoing conversion of agricultural land into subdivisions and commercial property, in a place where food insecurity is now, pardon the pun, on the table.  Certainly, the laws for doing so are quite strict compared to past decades but perhaps real estate development has captured a little too much of the imagination in Durham, as in other places touching the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area.  As with the country at large, Durham has too much child poverty and food bank use is a permanent feature of life for many, including people with jobs.

This particular report, and ones like it, merits attention and represents the detail needed to understand poverty.

The Price of Eating Well in Durham Region
7-page .pdf file

Poverty report raises red flags for Durham groups

Social Planning Network of Ontario: CDC Durham
Links to a variety of reports 2007-2011

image: Two vistas from near Oshawa, one of Canada’s rock capitals and commercial centre of Durham Region via SeRVe61 & Rick Harris – Wikimedia Commons

(315) Honey, was that the phone?

orange phoneThe Beveridge curve is not something you find at the pub.  Though, when we learned a little about it the other day we found ourselves thinking of that very place.  You see, the Beveridge curve is getting wider, …and that’s bad.  What is the Beveridge curve?  Basically, it’s the gap between the number of jobs being created and the unemployment statistics displayed graphically.  A widening Beveridge curve is a hint at the social disfigurement of worklessness, it speaks volumes about those who have given up bothering to look and suggests a potentially scary skills gap.  The new jobs of the new economy are not getting filled by those most in need of work: people with less education or who have become stigmatized by underemployment and layoffs.  No longer, it would seem, do job openings and reduced unemployment figures move in tandem.

The Beveridge curve is apparently worsening for Canada, Britain and the United States, not behaving as it has in previous years.  In Canada “skills gap” has become a meme of late with the federal government expressing concern about its impact on future growth, though a BMO report in March seemed to feel the gap is exaggerated.  More evidence that the Great Recession, in case you hadn’t noticed otherwise, really is different.

Columnists and bloggers have picked up a recent field test conducted by a pair of economists probing the depressing nature of the Beveridge curve.  The effort involved sending out some 4800 fake resumes as responses to 600 job postings.  The period of worklessness indicated on the resume determined who would be called back.  The longer that period the less likelihood of a phone call.  Is this the advent of structural unemployment or a cultural mechanism, the stigmatization of the longer term unemployed?  The study provides a living tableau of the Beveridge curve and should have job seekers waiting by their phones reaching for the anti-depressant medication of choice sooner rather than later.

The jobless trap Paul Krugman comments in the New York Times on the Beveridge curve and long term unemployment

The terrifying reality of long-term unemployment: it’s an awful Catch-22, employers won’t hire you if you’ve been out of work more than six months 
The Atlantic

What can we learn by disaggregating the unemployment-vacancy relationship?
13-page .pdf file from Boston Federal Reserve explaining the Beveridge curve with numerous charts and comparing it to the 1970s

Skilled labour gap exaggerated, BMO says: bank disputes federal government claim of yawning skills shortage cbc.ca – see video and link to report

image: HubiB via Wikimedia Commons

(314) Youth & work in Ontario

Newsboy_in_1905Tip stealing, outsourcing, illegal unpaid internships, low wages, unsafe conditions, harassment.  Young workers face these and other challenges here in Ontario too often.  Luckily, those same workers have a friend in Andrew Langille, a Toronto-based labour lawyer.  His website Youth and Work spells out his commitment to them.  The blog in particular is a worthy effort, full of deft and detailed discussion of the pressures facing young workers.  Youth and Work names and shames government officials, media outlets and all kinds of businesses that impose upon students, recent graduates and other young workers – often in clear contravention of employment law.  Mr. Langille has also posted a number of interviews on the site and they are educational, powerful reading.  This is no rusty sword in the fight against precarious employment, questionable business practices, low standards of living and exploitive tendencies.

Youth and work: a website about youths, workplace law, economics, labour markets, education, & public policy

image: Toronto newsboy selling Toronto Evening Telegram in 1905 via McCord Museum/Wikimedia Commons

(313) Internal economics

tumblr_mf8ygfCJsj1qc0pgeo1_1280Internships have become a fixture of the economy.  Asking around about the value of working without pay in order to get some real world currency with employers is to solicit decidedly mixed responses.  Descriptors range from “worthless” to “depressing” and “annoying bullshit” to “it saved my life”.  Where is the truth we might wonder at a time when the employment prospects for youth seem as difficult as ever?  We are told with religious certainty that maximum education is required for success in the new workplace and being an intern is therefore to be embraced.  Young people often serve more than one and yet the internship, for many, is just another stretch on the road to nowhere, a feature of underemployment and poverty.

The downside of interning has struggled to emerge within the story of work and employment as it has come to be known since the 1980s.  The mythology of internship remains strong, in part, because there are success stories.  So, what of the time-wasting, depressing, free-lunch-for-business critique of interning?  Well, it’s becoming especially important now that legalistic arguments are being advanced that large-scale use of interns may actually be illegal, not just morally iffy, but contrary to reasonable expectations of the social conduct of business and government?

Canada appears to be catching up to the States and the UK where the negative take on interning is a much more evolved and visible story, and has been for a while.  The University of Toronto Student Union spoke up this week on behalf of some 300,000 unpaid interns across the country in nearly every kind of industry, taking a position that such internships are exploitve.  UTSU’s letter to Ontario’s Minister of Labour received a mediocre response from that office and seems to have been pushed out of the media by the Boston attacks.

Letter to Yasir Naqvi from UTSU regarding unpaid internships

Coincidentally, a social media/brand management firm in British Columbia called HootSuite has been so embarrassed, in the online world in particular, at the backlash against its use of unpaid interns it has stopped the practice and going forward will pay interns.  Clearly, their interns have been doing something of monetary value and their lawyers must have told them there is merit, and therefore risk to HootSuite, in the argument that interning is illegal.

Unpaid HootSuite interns get back pay itworldcanada.com

The book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy by Ross Perlin made a project of understanding internships in the United States and is brutal reading.  Perlin allows for the potential value of interning, offers numerous solutions but finds too many things wrong with the phenomenon for it to remain the way it is.  He sets out the scale, meaning and implications of what has become a social norm.

These are not your father’s internships Ross Perlin 2012 NYT opinion piece

Ross Perlin speaking at Google headquarters 2011 

In the UK we find an ongoing legal case in which a 24-year-old museum volunteer, Caitt Reilly, receiving a job seeker’s benefit was required to work without wages at a retail chain called Poundland, British equivalent of a dollar store.  Ms. Reilly is part of a challenge to the legislation requiring unpaid commerical work for social welfare benefits mounted in the courts.  Her example has stirred a large amount of emotion and the government was compelled to amend a bill in parliament to prevent back pay being given to those in unpaid-work-for-benefit situations like Ms. Reilly’s.
For many observers her case speaks to the miserable nature of the current coalition government steering the UK towards austerity and seeming to lack any other idea beyond cutbacks to public programs and lower taxes for the wealthy.

Poundland ruling ‘blows big hole’ through government work schemes
guardian.co.uk – see video, other links & comments section

International Lessons: youth unemployment in the global context
53-page .pdf version of a January 2013 report from Lancaster University’s Work Foundation which finds the UK comparing poorly to, yes, you guessed it, Germany when it comes to moving young people from education to employment.

image: Wikimedia Commons

(310) Love your local bus!

Pentagon bus_tifIn his weekly column on TruthDig Chris Hedges shares findings regarding the privatization of public transit in the United States and also in Canada where it is approaching like a bus with a cracked frame, no brakes, and a driver who has fallen asleep because he has to do a hundred hours a week behind the wheel to get by.

The column was read with interest at this blog where public transit fills the view finder as a primary feature of suburban poverty.  A feature that is hardly addressed by corporate power and abuse.  And how else to describe the accidents, declining service, rising fares, poor wages, long hours and huge profits that are part of a picture of privatized, globally-owned, anti-union bus and transit systems?

Sweatshops on wheels

image: Pentagon-bound GMC bus in Washington, DC in the 1970s by YR Okamoto via Wikimedia Commons/NARA

(308) Royal what?

Royal_Bank_Building Toronto“That’s not what we’re doing.”

“What we are doing is perfectly legal.”

“We’re sorry.”

That’s pretty much how one of Canada’s largest, richest businesses responded to a burst of public outrage over what it thought would be a run-of-the-mill outsourcing of 45 Toronto-based IT employees to an Indian firm called iGate.  Could it be that Canadians are waking up to corporate power and abuse?

RBC can hardly cry poverty, they are a profitable bank capitalized at something like eighty billion dollars, so to get caught dismissing established employees to make use of a temporary worker program that allows for fifteen percent lower wages is a public relations disaster.  A turn that squanders a lot of the moral capital the bank shared with the rest of the sector for not having dumped Canadians into a sub-prime mortgage or bailout nightmare like their risk-worshipping British and American cousins came up with.

Also tough are the wider questions raised.  The list of major businesses lined up for the temporary worker program includes some of the most recognized names in the Canadian corporate caravan.  For example, Tim Hortons, the inescapable coffee shop so beloved of Canada’s working- and wish-they-were-working-class is on the list for the program.

The mass media has picked up the public’s indignation and the story seems to have legs, despite RBCs damage control effort via full-page print ads in major newspapers and online.  If all the cranky comments and Facebook flutter translates into closed accounts, loss of transaction fees and the like then this might be a learning moment for management and the board of the bank.  Certainly, Mr. Nixon, President and CEO of the bank, can’t have enjoyed the last week or so very much.  It isn’t in the selfish self interest of the bank to have a precarious, underpaid workforce and alienated customers.

Perhaps the public has learned something about the vulnerability of Canada’s massive and historically well-protected banks.  After two centuries of building profitable businesses in the second largest country in the world and emerging as global players the brand of Canada’s banking sector is perhaps more fragile than it realized.  The leverage of the public when it comes to modifiying the harmful behaviour of the banks has been glimpsed this week.  For the record, RBC puts its transaction fees up recently.

Labour groups have expressed doubt about the temporary worker program since it got going.  Unions are threatened in an economy based on flexible labour.  Additionally, word is not very good on the program from the workers inside it.  The whole deal says exploitation.  Conservative commentators like Andrew Coyne and Terence Corcoran are all over this controversy in their columns as an overblown emotional diversion which does a disservice to corporate Canada in its efforts to be its best possible self.  Such daring contrarians!

Corporate power and abuse like this, sanctioned by Ottawa, supports suburban poverty.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Greater Toronto Area, where the outsourcing was planned to take place, has a slightly higher rate of unemployment than the country at large, RBC is in the black and has paid out record bonuses in recent times.

Good work RBC!

Outsource Canada “I spent two days on this site!” matches the number of foreign workers in each province with the number of unemployed there.

Huffington Post Canada has added the RBC outsourcing fiasco to its ongoing coverage of middle class decline.
Temporary Insanity: RBC vs Canada’s middle class

RBC’s CEO Isn’t the Only Boss With an Obscene Salary

image: Siqbal via Wikimedia Commons

(307) Changing numbers in Peel

Cryptanalytic_BombeThe trend for Peel Region is towards suburban poverty.  Recent numbers collected by an ongoing effort to assess social conditions in Canada at University of Toronto provide the story.  Decline in real incomes, growth in accommodation costs, rising car-related expenses like gas and insurance and a weakened picture for employment have moved many into poverty despite continued population growth and the vast sums invested in the artefacts of sprawl (roads, houses, commercial strips).

Peel seems to be developing a pinched class where once there was a middle class.  Growth in population appears to be stressing social services and draining prosperity.  “In 1980, Peel had just two low-income neighbourhoods. Three decades later, 45 per cent of neighbourhoods were considered low-income or very low-income, nearly the same proportion as in the city of Toronto,” says a recent item on the large, suburban area immediately west of Toronto, linked below.

This must be tough to swallow in a place that prided itself on growth, was a vast construction site for decades, where it seems like the 80s never ended if you were a property speculator, a builder or a municipal bureaucrat.  The elected representatives in the communities making up Peel region tend toward conservatism and have not begun to strategize for the future.  The two large city governments within Peel, Mississauga and Brampton, are at odds with each other regarding the formulas used to determine their share of regional spending.  Mississauga’s mayor, facing a renewed legal approach in regard to conflict of interest with the development industry, is in her nineties now and will leave behind a dysfunctional and underachieving city council when she leaves office shortly.  Brampton presents a very mixed picture as well.

Low crime rates in Peel are appreciated by its residents.  The place is neither Bangladesh nor Detroit.  A big, expensive, impressive plan for light rail transit for Highway 10 is on the books, too.  But…

…a lack of political imagination has helped build the present in Peel Region, as surely as any demographic development.  The faster a relationship is discovered with the former the sooner those demographic developments can be responded to in a meaningful way and bigger problems ameliorated.  The political culture of easy income through rubber stamping development permits won’t be put to rest without pain we suspect.  So, expect more findings like the ones in this article.

Peel changes as poverty moves into middle-class suburbia

photo: Cryptanalysis computer in the 1940s taken by J Brew via Wikimedia Commons

(304) Guns are classy in Toronto

BulletAcademic and social observer Richard Florida writes in the Star that gun crime in Toronto seems to map to class and cultural environments in a disturbingly close fashion.  If you are in North America’s fourth largest city (the GTA edged out Chicago for that spot in terms of population just recently) try to hang around the green zone, where Florida’s so-called creative class live.  Florida says,  ” …the recent uptick in gun violence in Toronto mirrors the same fault-lines of economic and social disadvantage that exist in U.S. cities.”  In terms of actual numbers of people killed by guns Toronto still remains remarkably safe, having only about a tenth of the firearm homicides of Chicago, according to statistics in the article.  Those in the green part of the map are protected from gun violence because they are educated, economically connected, properly employed people.  Florida points out that because gun violence is something happening to other people somewhere else, many a privileged Torontonian seems quite complacent about it.  Removal of barriers to  “living green,” as it were, is essential to eliminating gun violence and protecting the total quality of life in the city.

…look at all the dots on the map accompanying the piece indicating a gun murder in a suburban location.

Guns and class in Toronto: the vast majority of Toronto’s gun murders since 2000 took place where members of the service and working class live  

image: 1888 photo of a bullet in flight taken by Ernst Mach via Wikimedia Commons

(301) Ho$pital parking

hospital parkingCBC’s Marketplace program reports that a survey of more than a thousand Canadians indicated that the cost of parking a motor vehicle at a hospital adds stress and cost to being sick.  If you have any kind of experience of chronic illness requiring multiple visits to the hospital you’ll know how the cost of parking is quickly added to the logistics for patients, visitors, family, volunteers.  Twenty dollars for parking is not unusual at big hopsitals hungry for revenue.  Medical professionals suggest parking costs are a tax, which raises moral issues.  In barely a week over 1500 comments appeared on the cbc.ca page for the segment!  Other news outlets have picked up this story, and acknowledge its emotional dimension.

Marketplace’s cameras went to Mississauga’s Credit Valley Hospital where we see walkers wiping out on ice while approaching a hospital that would charge them $16 or more for a visit.  Another woman drops her kids off first and then parks at a nearby mall and walks over.

Hospital parking rates a ‘tax’ on sick Canadians

Hospital parking pain Marketplace 22:16