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Stop wondering about under-subscription of benefits

Getting the Learning Bond and Education Savings Grants is really hard for low-income parents I have become mildly annoyed by those who can’t figure out why the Canada Learning Bond (CLB) and the Canada Education Savings Grants (CESG) are undersubscribed among low-income parents. There really should be no mystery. All you have to do is shadow a low income parent (usually a woman) through the process and it all becomes clear. The following is a composite (mix and match) of my shadowing activity with four very motivated young lone parents who had heard about these benefits and wanted them for their children. I get to their places about 8:00 a.m. and ask if they are ready for it. There is the usual last minute kerfuffle about getting a child to…
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What’s wrong with earmarked debit cards and lower benefits for long terms social assistance recipients?

What's wrong with debit cards for social assistance recipients?  Nothing as long as they are not earmarked! What's wrong with restrictions on debit cards e.g. no liquor or cellphones? 10 things that are wrong 1. The main reason is that the desired outcome of better spending of funds would simply not occur - no evidence is available that it would change spending patterns. 2. There would be a black market for cards just like food stamps in the US - they would be sold off at discounts driving taxpayer dollars into the hands of  card dealers. Is that what the taxpayer wants? 3. Restricting inadequate funds for necessities would mean that people may not be able to pay the rent and therefore get evicted 4. A system with 800 rules would be…
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How do we begin a dialogue about inequality with conservative Canadians?

As someone who spent a career in social welfare, I have often been a sounding board for conservative acquaintances, particularly those who are advanced in years. “I say, let them starve,” one of my relatives declared to me at a family dinner. What he meant by that is: “Why don’t these people behave? Why don’t they just do what they’re supposed to do? I went out, I worked hard, why shouldn’t they work hard? And if they don’t work hard, then they should starve.” In pondering how to respond to sentiments like these, I have been much aided by Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.[1]  Haidt himself is a liberal social democrat. But he has successfully analysed why conservatives and…
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How do you replace social policy? With ‘decision-based evidence making’[i]

Social policy, at its simplest and most active, is the articulation of ideas to effect positive change for people based on strong principles and the best available evidence. Social policy is a good thing and is historically a strong suit of governments. Therefore, it is extremely interesting that Canada now has a federal government that appears to wish to get out of social policy. They are achieving this end in five ways: Through staff cuts and attrition in the  government departments like Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) that do social policy; By declaring that large aspects of social policy like poverty reduction are  the responsibility of someone else ( i.e. provinces) By making sure that charities do not conduct social policy that could be construed to have political…
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Social assistance recipients in Ontario

I have written a monthly newsletter for years  about social assistance caseloads. I was asked if it is face-bookable or tweet-able. With this post, I am going to try to make that possible. It is an exciting time because social assistance recipiency ( if there is such a word) is at the crossroads. March has traditionally marked the high point in social assistance caseloads. And following the 1980's and 1990's recessions, caseloads had multi-year peaks in March 1983 and March 1994 in Ontario . The file is here: Ontario unemployment and SA rates 1981 to 2008, 2009 monthly to April 2012 (1) Will March 2012 will be the high water mark? There are no safe bets here. But few months have shown a retreat  like April 2012 in all OW categories of singles, couples, and lone…
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Talking to seniors about working poverty

I recently co-authored a paper on Working Poverty in the Toronto Region with some colleagues at Statistics Canada. I also  have a PowerPoint presentation that I take on the road. I have presented to Annual General Meetings, think tanks, universities, groups of advocates, municipalities, special government panels, and to the public at large. One of the presentations to the public was at the Gardiner Museum as part of Open Doors Toronto. I tailored my presentation to a public audience. I took out the math and the technical discussion. The audience was polite and appeared interested and appreciative. At the end after about 40 minutes, I asked if there were any questions or discussion. Some polite and easy clarifying questions were asked and answered. Just as I thought we were winding…
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Why do we enforce the most stringent ‘adult entry’ rules on the most vulnerable?

We all know that Canada is an aging society. But how many of us know that the median age in Canada was 26 in 1967 and is now age 42[1]? Most of us are living longer and having smaller families. Yet we don’t seem to stop to think too much about what an older Canada means for the extensions in the stages of our lives. Much has been written about the incredible lengthening of old  age in our society. People who retired at 65 in  1967 typically lived into their mid-seventies. Now they live a decade or more longer. Our working lives used to end at age 65 but mandatory retirement laws have been scrapped and our federal government is postponing the receipt of Old Age Security to age 67.…
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Two belt tightening families: Which one looks most like government?

Families, it is said, have to tighten their belts in tough times. Some think that government should do the same. Countries like Canada and the United States, like almost all rich countries, borrow money. In some ways, the lure of being able to raise capital is why they became countries in the first place. Once a land becomes a legal entity, it creates a currency and it is able to invest in its future. Growth begins with new investment. People do the same thing - they borrow to buy a home and to become educated to make the money that they intend to pay back. Once repaid and the family realizes its potential, a family becomes prosperous. It owes little or nothing and uses its resources to loan to others:…
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Working Poor & Responding to the Ontario Budget

April 25 marks two important moments. For  everyone who remembers the film Miss Congeniality with Sandra Bullock and William Shatner ( among others), filmgoers will recall that a contestant was asked  to describe her ideal "date". http://www.hark.com/clips/rktkddnmkl-describe-your-perfect-date She thought long and hard and finally said: "April 25th" She noted that the days were getting longer, days warmer, plants greener among other things etc. Poor Bill Shatner overacted apoplexy with the response. Anyways for those of you who are wondering about your ideal date, a wonderful evening on working poverty and responding to the Ontario Budget is in store. See you there! econimc inequality poster Main Website is:
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Cut in Half! Another ‘Close Encounter of the ‘30’s kind’

Back in 2006, I recorded the personal reminiscences of my mother and youngest aunt.   I never tire of reading their recollections of the Great Depression and World War II. A few weeks ago, after releasing a paper I co-authored on the working poor in Toronto, I was asked to depute before the Toronto City Council committee that was dealing with the possibility of cutting the pay of cleaning and janitorial workers ‘in half’ in order to cut costs. This was not long after Electro-Motive, owned by Caterpillar, called on its London, Ont., workers to OK a 50 per cent pay cut before leaving Canada entirely. It got me thinking. I knew there was something about ‘pay being cut in half ‘in the family remembrances. I found it. Here is the…
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