Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 17, 2010
Recession still haunts Main St., Canada
The poor, the disenfranchised, the elderly, still struggle with less, still struggle to have their story told
Journey to Justice
Have you noticed the economic recession is over?
Every day the financial pages in our newspapers tell us that the economy has rebounded. Corporate profits are rebounding, banks are making big money once more and carmakers are paying back their bailout loans to governments.
But do reported events on Bay Street mirror the reality lived on Main Street?
Most of the time, I doubt it. The most vulnerable groups in society were those hardest hit in this downturn and they will be those whose recovery will be most in question.
Here is an excerpt from my parish bulletin this past Sunday:
"The St. Joe's Supper Table is experiencing a significant increase in the number of meals it serves. Over the past three months, over 700 additional meals have been served each month in comparison to last year. If you can drop some food items into the bin at the back of the church, especially bread, that would be helpful and much appreciated."
If the economy is improving, someone forgot to let the folks at the breadlines in on the secret.
BEARING THE BRUNT
Readers might find it revealing to see a study just released by Citizens for Public Justice, called Bearing the Brunt: How the 2008-2009 Recession Created Poverty for Canadian Families.
Since we will have to wait until 2011 for official government statistics on poverty levels, CPJ researchers looked at several key indicators to piece together the impact of the recession on families. Their discoveries are sobering.
According to CPJ, the poverty rate increased from 9.2 per cent in 2007 to 11.7 per cent in 2009. An additional 900,000 Canadians (a total of 3.9 million people) lived in poverty. Perhaps more disturbing, the child poverty rate increased from 9.5 per cent in 2007 to at least 12 per cent in 2009. This is an increase of 160,000 Canadian children living in poverty.
After the last recession, it took 14 years for the poverty rate to return to its pre-recession level. This was because job losses disproportionately affected those most economically vulnerable and because some who lost manufacturing jobs could only find new positions with much lower wages.
Recessions tend to increase the income gap between high-income and low-income Canadians. The poorest Canadians lose more of their income during a downturn and do not recover at the same rate. It is estimated, for example, that one in four workers making $10 an hour or less lost their jobs in this recession.
The recent recession was difficult for other reasons, too. Food prices jumped at a greater rate than inflation in 2009 and rental affordability declined in 11 major urban centres in Canada. Average household debt grew and the number of Canadians using a food bank jumped 18 per cent in 2009, the largest year-over-year increase on record.
As well, between September 2008 and September 2009, the number of bankruptcies rose 36.4 per cent.
What do these figures mean in the real lives of our neighbours? The members of ISARC, the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition in Ontario (a group supported by Ontario's Catholic bishops) decided to find out. They organized 30 "social audits" across the province in an attempt to judge how community people were faring.
In Ottawa, the late April hearing was organized by an interfaith group of Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of no particular faith tradition.
Each event began with a morning of listening to people with a lived experience of poverty tell their stories.
S. mentioned how she moved to Ottawa for her safety a couple of years ago, but could only receive $351 a month from welfare, plus $42 for her special dietary needs due to diabetes.
Having a rent-geared-to-income apartment proved to be her saving grace. She managed to stay strong and positive until the day, when out with friends, she could not afford to buy a cup of coffee. According to S., "On that day, I lost it."
Her situation improved magically last August when she became "officially old" and began to receive old age benefits. She wonders why, from one day to the next, society decided that she no longer needed to struggle as much.
ISARC will be tabulating experiences from across Ontario and bringing them to MPPs, with recommendations for policy changes, in June. Simple reliance on the market economy to improve the lot of the poor has been ineffective.
Governments must develop and implement plans to lower, and eventually eliminate, poverty.
You too can join the call for a federal plan to eliminate poverty by signing on to the Dignity for All campaign, at www.dignityforall.ca and by reading the Bearing the Brunt report at www.cpj.ca/bearingthebrunt.
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, http://www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)
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