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“clean up in aisle 5…”

November 25, 2015

So, the Toronto Star has a front page piece today on how non-profit workers are ridiculously underpaid, often do not have full time work, nor have much in benefits, job security, or pension options.

Who, you might add, are non-profit workers? The list is enormous, but here are a few that you may immediately recognize: child care workers, youthworkers, addiction counsellors, job trainers, homeless shelter workers, senior caregivers, employment support services, conflict mediators, after school workers, community garden developers, anti-poverty workers…

The list goes on into the hundreds.

I have worked in the non-profit sector most of my adult life. The pay is poor. The hours often long. Usually you are dealing with a crisis.

Sector burnout is huge. Many non-profit workers suffer from PTSD.

Did I mention the pay is poor?

But why would we pay those who look after our babies and children and seniors and our sick and our lost and our homeless so little?

Let me put in Downton Abbey terms (as I am currently watching the series with my mother): while we respect our non-profit workers in the way the Aristocracy once respected their footmen, we insist on paying them kitchen staff wages and prefer they keep out of sight lest we all be reminded of the true cost of how we operate our society.

To pay a homeless shelter crisis worker (who has at least a B.A. or Social Work Degree) more then $15 an hour would be to admit a) we have a homeless problem, and b) we value those who work with the homeless. Neither, in my experience, is true.

Oh, I get nice little platitudes at dinner parties when people discover I counsel homeless youth – like a nice verbal “good for you” pat on the head – but, don’t I really think homeless youth just need to get a job and stop feeling sorry for themselves…?

Unlike many European countries, we want to run our culture on the cheap. While we have record corporate profits, corporate tax rates are at their lowest rates since the last great war.

We are also Puritans who think in Old Testament terms – that the poor and the unfortunate have only themselves to blame for their problems.

Until that changes, no matter how many reports fill some academic’s bookshelf, nothing will change.

Most non-profit workers will continue to work for $30-35,000 a year(assuming they get a full time position) and their job security will depend entirely on the whims of some government bureaucrat, who may decide tomorrow that they would rather fund another program that is – for today – more sexy.

Ask almost anyone who works in non-profits: they will tell you their job exists purely on the whim of the current government. The actual issues and the people they are dealing with mean – most often – less than nothing…

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