This column was published in the November 28, 2011 Christian Courier and is reprinted here with the permission of the Christian Courier.

As the economic news out of Europe seems to worsen constantly, many are wondering if Canada will be dragged back into a recession.  These fears seem confirmed by a decline in Gross Domestic Product in the second quarter of this year and by massive job losses in October.

However, even before our economic recovery began to seem shaky, the reality on the ground wasn’t as good as the official narrative. While some Canadians were experiencing the benefits of recovery, maintaining employment or finding a new job, for too many others recovery was either precarious or non-existent.   They are still unemployed with inadequate Employment Insurance or social assistance benefits or precariously employed with low wages, faced with rising costs for housing, and more likely to be forced to turn to food banks for support.

While we have regained the number of jobs lost during the recession, a worrisome shift has taken place from full-time jobs to part-time jobs and from permanent jobs to temporary jobs, increasing the number of Canadians who are precariously employed. Part-time and temporary jobs are both lower-waged on average than full-time and permanent jobs. More Canadians are now involuntarily working part-time than before the recession, finding it difficult to make ends meet on part-time wages. There has also been a shift from jobs in high paying goods industries to jobs in the low paying service industry.

And unemployment remains high, with 1,374,200 Canadians unable to find work in October. The number of discouraged seekers who have stopped looking for work and are no longer counted as unemployed increased 37.8 percent between October 2008 and October 2010. The number of students also increased 17.3 percent as people chose to go back to school or stay in school to avoid an unfriendly hiring climate. Young people have been particularly impacted by unemployment, with the official youth unemployment rate at 14.1 percent in October 2011. However, youth participation in the labour force has dropped nearly 3 percentage points since 2008, meaning that youth unemployment is actually higher than that.

Those who lose their jobs need to turn to Employment Insurance, but EI has turned out to be completely inadequate. While at the peak of the recession just over half of the unemployed were receiving benefits, the coverage rate has now declined to 42 percent of unemployed Canadians in May 2011, below the pre-recession rate. The number of unemployed Canadians not receiving EI has been rising in 2011, despite the fact that unemployment has been falling. Over 500,000 Canadians also exhausted their benefits in 2009 and 2010 without finding new work.

As a result of EI’s inadequacies, social assistance caseloads have increased dramatically across the country. In Alberta (46 percent), Ontario (27.91 percent) and BC (23.29 percent), the increases since 2008 have been particularly high, but all 10 provinces have experienced an increase. Quebec is the lone province to have seen a decline in welfare caseloads between 2009 and 2010. The recession’s full impact may not have been experienced yet, as 7 out of 9 provinces with available data witnessed their peak caseload since October 2008 in 2011.

Meanwhile, Canadians who are struggling to make ends meet on the poverty income of EI or social assistance benefits or on the wages of a part-time job have been confronted with rising energy costs and average rents that have increased by more than the rate of inflation.

The increasing strain of precarious or poverty incomes on Canadian households can be seen in rising debt levels and mortgage arrears. The average debt load per household in Canada reached record levels in 2010, rising above $100,000 per household and equaling 150 percent of disposable income. The number of mortgages that are in arrears by 3 months or more increased by more than 52 percent during the recession, and is still 49 percent higher than before the recession began.

Perhaps the best indicator of economic strain is food bank use, which reached record levels in 2010. The number of food bank users increased 28 percent between 2008 and 2010, reaching a new record high.  The number barely edged down in 2011, highlighting the ongoing vulnerability of many Canadian families.

Without intentional action on the part of Canadian governments, these Canadians will not experience the benefits of recovery. The recession significantly increased poverty in Canada, which had been at a record low in 2007. Since the recession ended the situation has not gotten any better for poor Canadians. We need deliberate action to reduce poverty and unemployment in Canada. Without a poverty elimination strategy, we will simply see the poverty rate continue to rise and fall along with the economic cycle, without making any progress towards eliminating poverty.

The good news is that action on poverty will bring economic growth. The Department of Finance estimates that a $1 billion investment in low income Canadians will create a $1.7 billion boost to GDP. This is greater than the return on almost any other investment. We can’t afford to leave any Canadians behind if we want a good news recovery story for Canada.

Advertisements

In this paper I presented at the Tenth Annual North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress in New York City, I compare the costs and consequences of prison spending with a guaranteed annual income.

Executive Summary

Critics of guaranteed annual income allege that the program costs too much. However, despite the claim that the era of big government is over and the call for austerity measures, government spending is increasing. As a way of understanding the outcomes and opportunity costs of the current government budgetary priorities, this paper explores two guaranteed income programs and their outcomes.

Prison is a guaranteed income program that provides all food, clothing, housing and educational programs for its recipients. The average provincial prisoner costs the Canadian taxpayer $84,225 a year. The average federal prisoner costs the Canadian taxpayer $147,467 a year.

Since 2006, the Conservative government has pursued a tough‐on‐crime agenda that is increasing both the number of prisoners and the length of time they spend in prison. They are pursuing this agenda despite the fact that both the crime rate and crime severity in Canada have been steadily falling. Major changes include elimination of the two‐for‐one credit for time served before sentencing, elimination of conditional sentences for certain crimes, rule changes to make it more difficult to achieve parole, and new mandatory minimum sentences for a range of crimes.

The government has not been very transparent about the costs of its crime agenda. It tabled documents in Parliament stating the total cost will be $2.75 billion. However, estimates from other organizations suggest that the government’s estimates are too low. For instance, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has calculated that the cost of the Truth in Sentencing Act will be $1.8 billion in capital costs for the federal government and $5.1 billion in annual operating costs. Provinces are already committed to spending $2.7 billion on new prisons, with a $300 million increase in annual operating costs. Together with the elimination of the Accelerated Parole Review, mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and the elimination of conditional sentences, the total cost estimates come to $8.9 billion over five years for capital costs and $5.8 billion annually in operations and maintenance costs by 2015‐16.

Increasing the number of people in prison and the length of time they spend there has important consequences for both individuals and Canadian society. These outcomes include increased recidivism, over‐representation of the poor, mentally ill and Aboriginal Canadians, spread of infectious diseases, a negative impact on children and families, lower earning potential, fueling of public fears and emotions of revenge and vindictiveness and a reduction in spending capacity for other priorities.

An alternative guaranteed income program is a guaranteed annual income for all Canadians that provides a modest but decent standard of living. In 2008, the poverty gap in Canada was $13.1 billion. If the $5.8 billion of federal and provincial revenue that will be spent on prison operation and maintenance annually by 2015‐16 were to be invested in a Negative Income Tax to low income Canadians, we could nearly halve poverty in Canada. If we wanted to fund a more generous guaranteed annual income that not only got Canadians to the LICO line but put them $2000 above it, this $5.8 billion would represent 30% of the $19.2 billion required.

Unlike prison spending, the social outcomes of investing in a guaranteed annual income are positive. They include greater well‐being and social cohesion because of better income equality, lower costs associated with poverty, and the possibility of a reduction in crime.

The choice is ours: we can continue to pay to lockup an increasing number of Canadians at a high cost to our budgets and to our social fabric, or we can invest in a guaranteed annual income for all Canadians that would pay dividends in social benefits. We cannot argue that guaranteed annual income is unaffordable and continue to pay ever increasing amounts on incarceration. We can choose dignity, improved well‐being and social solidarity, or we can choose punishment, fear and marginalization. The upfront cost is not that different.

Punishing Costs: Budget Priorities and Guaranteed Income

This month’s issue of Canadian Dimension also has an article based on this paper, 25 to Life or $25,000 for Life?

My thesis for a Master of Arts in French from Bowling Green State University in 2003:

ABSTRACT

This thesis examines French feminism, using the recent parity debate and the literature it produced as a lens, in an attempt to reveal the dominant discourses of French feminism and the particular place of women in the French Republic.  In contrast to the standard portrayal of French feminism outside of France as radically obsessed by difference, the dominant discourses of French feminism are characterized by a diversity of arguments on the nature of women.  These conceptions of women range from difference as natural and essential to difference as the result of social or historical construction.  Because there is no agreement among feminists on the nature of women, there is also no consensus on what constitutes equality and parity and whether or not each is desirable.  Positions on these issues are shaped by the Republican concept of equality.  This lack of accord hinders collective action, but it did not prevent feminists from achieving the adoption of laws on parity.  This examination also reveals that the current marginalization of women in the political sphere in France and the response of feminists are the result of a long history of exclusion of women in France and the reactions of feminists to that exclusion.  Feminists are also guided in their response by Republican ideas of representation.  However, although they agree that the Republican ideal fails to recognize that sex currently has a negative interpretation for political participation, they do not agree on how to change that interpretation or what the political interpretation of sex should be.

La Moitie Feminine

My research essay for a Master of Arts in political science from Carleton University in 2004:

ABSTRACT

By means of controlled, contextual comparison, this research essay considers women’s representation in six countries with a quota system of some kind: Argentina, France, India, Norway, Poland and Uganda. This analysis suggests that interactions between political actors and political structures, or political opportunity structure, is the most important factor in determining women’s access to democratically elected bodies. Political parties and women’s movements are the most important actors in this process. Certain features of the legislative recruitment process, such as a proportional representation electoral system, facilitate the attempts of women’s movements to pressure the political system into opening a space for them, while others impede women’s opportunities. The analysis also suggests that the strategies adopted by women’s movements are shaped by the opportunities presented to them by their political and institutional context. The electoral success of women and the pursuit of electoral projects as a strategy to increase women’s political citizenship must therefore be understood contextually.

When Women Want In