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poor? who’s poor?

November 30, 2015

They are the invisible people. They are of a caste we prefer to keep on the peripheries of our life. North Dartmouth. Regent Park. North Winnipeg. Most of rural Canada.

They make up at least 25% of us now, and despite what conservatives say about them, and what liberals secretly think about them, the poor in this country are floundering badly, we are to blame for it, and the situation is getting worse by the year.

The Toronto Star seems to be the only media willing to keep us appraised of the situation by headlining last week the findings of the Campaign 2000 Report, which reminds us yet again – in very stark statistical terms – that the number of people who are poor in this country is growing, and in some regions 1 in 3 children are living in poverty (and higher in aboriginal communities).

Maybe the poor don’t live in your Forest Hill neighbourhood, or your tuney suburban cul-de-sac, but putting our collective heads in the sand isn’t going to fix the problem. There are an infinite number of history lessons out there to remind us what happens when the elites of a society ignore the growing number of poor who live amongst them – and who eventually realize that the rich are only rich because they horde all the good stuff for themselves.

History paints a very dire picture of what happens when the poor are pushed to revolt.

And it’s just plain stupid social policy to ignore the problem. Low income families always have larger health problems (due to poor quality cheaper food, no dental care, no money for meds, poor housing, more stress and violence, less educational opportunities, family disintegration…).

Per capita there is more smoking, more drinking, more drug addiction. It’s not a genetic inferiority, it’s the simple facts of life, of being poor – ever tell a homeless youth that they shouldn’t smoke? That it’s not good for them? They’ll tell you to shut the fuck up!

The health care bill of keeping people poor costs the country billions of dollars.

We have never particularly cared about the poor in this country – but since the 1980’s – and the era of the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney trifector – we began to care less and less. Corporate tax loopholes grew bigger and bigger as our government was held hostage to corporate threats of blackmail, and off loading manufacturing jobs to wage poor third world countries – which they did anyway.

Wages began to slip further and further behind the rate of inflation, the minimum wage stagnated and then shrank to 1/3 of its 1980 value (it should be $22/hr if it had kept up to inflation over the past 30 years). Less and less affordable housing was built, putting pressure on housing prices, the number of rental units shrank, therefore putting increased pressure on prices, food prices, while cheap by historical standards, have outpaced wages – driving people to cheaper and poorer quality food choices.

And don’t get your nose out of joint when the poor are less then receptive to Canada bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees. It’s a bit hard to swallow that the government will spend somewhere between $700 million and a billion on refugees when there is no food in the kitchen, or wood in the furnace.

None of this is complicated stuff. Any high school economics teacher can easily explain to 16-year-olds what is going on in the country.

What they have a harder time explaining is why we choose not to do anything about it.

They can’t explain how we increasingly try to blame to poor for being poor.

They can’t explain why we had all-time record profits in Canada last year, yet the number of poor continued to increase.

I have moved back to my hometown and I have discovered that Hastings County is now the 2nd poorest county in Ontario. Every school has a breakfast program. Unemployment is high, despite the fact that most young people have left to work elsewhere.

My 75-year-old mother says she hasn’t seen poverty like this since the Great Depression. It breaks her heart.

It should break all of our hearts.

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