Ask the Expert: Can we end poverty?

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Daniyal Zuberi
RBC Chair & Associate Professor of Social Policy, 
University of Toronto

Daniyal Zuberi is the RBC Chair and Associate Professor of Social Policy at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto. In 2015, he was elected to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada. He was previously the William Lyon Mackenzie King Research Fellow at Harvard University. His innovative social policy research has made important contributions to the study of urban poverty, inequality, health, education, employment and social welfare. He has authored three books and other publications that examine the impact of public policy on vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in Canada and the United States. Imagine a City spoke with Daniyal for our ‘Ask the Expert’ series to provide a big-picture lens on poverty across North America. 

1. What are some of the common drivers that contribute to poverty across North America, whether in Winnipeg or Washington?

adsc_5343Poverty in North America is multi-faceted, affecting many individuals, families, and communities. The real cause of poverty is the lack of income. Many people are working longer and harder simply to tread water, living only one or two missed paycheques away from major financial hardship. With the explosion of precarious employment, too many households struggle to balance work and family life requirements as individuals take on multiple jobs to make ends meet and deal with the stress and anxiety of supporting their families. A job is no longer enough and they struggle as the “working poor” trying to find affordable housing and childcare for their families.  For those unable to find work, they receive very limited support. Most of these individuals can’t access employment insurance benefits due to program restrictions. They join tens of thousands of others on wait lists for housing assistance and subsidized childcare as well as heavily-subscribed charitable programs such as food banks. Instead of helping and enabling these individuals and families, we trap them in poverty, failing to provide the training, support and education they need to upgrade their skills and find secure living-wage employment.

2. Discuss the recent U.S. election and how it has put a spotlight on the growing issue of rising income inequality.

The failure to adequately address the growing insecurity experienced by all too many North American households is one cause of the unexpected election outcome in the United States. Most of the economic gains over the past several decades have flowed exclusively to those at the top, especially in the U.S. Growing economic insecurity threatens social cohesion and people react to fears that their fortunes have stagnated, or that they’re falling behind. Countries that are more equal, or those with narrower income gaps, have much higher social development outcomes. Life expectancy is longer, infant mortality is lower, there is greater social trust, lower crime and incarceration rates, less mental illness and better health and educational outcomes. Importantly, there is also more equality of opportunity. One of the best ways to address growing inequalities is to support those struggling at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy.

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3. How have changing labour market conditions, including precarious employment, impacted poverty?

The changing labour market is a major contributor to growing poverty in North America. With a shift away from manufacturing to the service sector in a globalized economy, we’ve seen a rapid expansion of precarious employment including poverty wage, part-time, and insecure jobs that fail to lift individuals and families above the poverty line. Our employment protections and social welfare policies have failed to evolve to protect people from poverty in this new economy. When hours are cut or workers are laid off, many can’t receive support from employment insurance because they haven’t worked enough hours to qualify. It’s important to note that these changes do not affect all workers equally. Women and racialized minorities, especially new immigrants, are the most likely to work in these precarious jobs. They’re forced to make impossible tradeoffs between working extra hours, but spending more on childcare, paying for rent or food. This is true in both Canada and the United States.

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4. Discuss the changing nature of poverty in North America and how it differs in urban, suburban and rural contexts.

Poverty exists in cities, rural areas, and suburban areas. Many of the causes and consequences of poverty in these three contexts are similar, but important differences also exist. For example, poor individuals and families in the suburbs are less visible. In Vaughan, a wealthy area in York Region, we see “hidden homelessness” where people are doubled or even tripled up living in other people’s basements. In suburban and rural areas, there are also problems with social isolation that also include greater challenges in terms of accessing transportation for services and employment opportunities. But the urban poor face some unique challenges too. Especially if high housing costs force them to live in stigmatized areas with high concentrations of poverty, where transit is less accessible, less frequent, and of poor quality. While it may be easier to access services for individuals living in urban neighbourhoods, living in a high poverty urban neighbourhood can also it make more difficult for a person to successfully obtain employment as a result of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and postal code. It can also require coping with more challenges including violence and schools that lack resources to address the major challenges facing their student populations. Fundamentally, in urban, suburban and rural contexts, poverty comes down to a lack of resources.

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5. Is there a single, best way to tackle poverty? If not, what are some common solutions we should be working towards?

No, I don’t think there’s a single solution. We need to continue to promote proactive policies and programs to prevent poverty and support struggling individuals and families. For example, we can raise social assistance rates to bring those households up above the poverty line. Expanding access to high-quality early childhood education will increase maternal employment and incomes by sending more mothers into the workplace, generating greater tax revenue and also reducing poverty. The research is clear that “housing first” and harm reduction approaches are far more effective than punitive measures to address problems such as homelessness and addiction. The latter results in an extremely expensive, reactive system where we end up spending more than required for policing, incarceration, hospitalization, and shelter services. We also need to focus on issues like raising the minimum wage, addressing a growing mental health crisis and providing individuals, including youth, with the training and support they need to find good jobs. Solutions at the local level are also important and include investments in high quality transit and community infrastructure. These include things like community hubs and health centres, parks, and community gardens that can really improve the quality of life for people in low-income neighbourhoods. These programs, along with significant policy reforms, could work together to reduce poverty quite dramatically.

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6. What is the role of the non-profits like United Way in mitigating the effects of poverty?

We have a healthy and vibrant social services sector. We need to continue to build on that and expand it. United Way and other organizations do great work in providing services and supports for vulnerable and at-risk populations. United Way does a particularly great job of raising awareness of important issues like precarious employment through its research. It also brings together coalitions to mobilize, to advocate for policy reforms and new programs and to fundamentally address some of the root causes of poverty with the goal of eradicating it.

7. Can we end poverty?

Absolutely, yes. Fundamentally we have to understand that we can end poverty if we have the political will. There are many places in the world—including Scandinavian countries—that have largely eliminated poverty. But it’s still extremely rare. Canada has done a lot more in terms of supporting those living on a low income and reducing poverty compared to the United States where we’ve seen a lot of cutbacks and a really rapid increase in deep poverty. Although there is a long way to go, I don’t think we should ever lose hope. I think, in fact, this is an important reminder why this work is so tremendously important. We can’t stop fighting to improve the quality of life for people living in poverty.  One of my friends is a congressman in the United States and he recently sent out an email with Dr. Martin Luther King’s message: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Changemakers to watch: Kofi Hope

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Kofi Hope
Executive Director, 
CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals

Meet Kofi Hope. He’s a leading youth advocate and prestigious Rhodes scholar who has dedicated his life’s work to amplifying the voices of Black youth who face barriers such as poverty and racialization. He’s also made it his mission to empower these young people to take charge of their futures by focusing on innovative solutions that connect youth to each other—and their communities.

WHO: As the Executive Director of the CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, a United Way Youth Challenge Fund legacy initiative, Kofi has played a pivotal role in connecting youth with the holistic supports they need for a promising future. This includes creating pathways to meaningful jobs, part of United Way’s bold new Youth Success Strategy that puts the long-term economic security of some of our region’s most vulnerable young people front-and-centre. “It’s not enough to just move a young person from unemployed to employed,” explains Kofi. “You have to build up the person by focusing on the unique aspects of their life.” And he’s doing exactly that—recognizing that stable employment is crucial to economic security—and a springboard to a promising future. “When you empower a person to take control of their life, they realize the barriers they’re facing will not be there forever,” he says. “They’re just problems to be solved and overcome.”

In fact, helping young people overcome barriers has been a life-long affair. He’s been a child and youth champion since he was a teen, organizing programming to address the growing needs of kids in his community. By university, he was advocating on behalf of Black youth as the founder of the Black Youth Coalition Against Violence. And by 28, he had a PhD from the highly-esteemed University of Oxford.

WHY: Kofi’s ability to bring together and mobilize community members, business leaders and decision-makers in a common cause of action is inspiring. In addition to his groundbreaking work with CEE, he’s also led meaningful change beyond our borders. He’s a passionate public speaker who has captivated audiences overseas, and has even advised on a land claim struggle in South Africa, effectively bridging the gap between community and authority as a cross-cultural communicator and negotiator.

WHAT’S NEXT: Earlier this year, Kofi joined the board of the Toronto Environmental Alliance where he’s tackling important social issues that intersect with environmental concerns. “Environmental and social justice are not competing causes,” explains Kofi. “Good public transit helps reduce our carbon footprint, but also opens up economic and social opportunities to marginalized people in underserved areas. You’re saving the environment and building a more equitable society for everyone.”

GOOD ADVICE:

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Are Community Benefits a roadmap for the future?

PEYMAN SOHEILI FOR THE TORONTO STAR

PEYMAN SOHEILI FOR THE TORONTO STAR

That’s the idea behind groundbreaking new Community Benefits legislation that will help connect residents from priority neighbourhoods with apprenticeship and work opportunities on large infrastructure projects like Metrolinx’s Eglinton Crosstown transit line.


Watch this video to hear more from our very own Pedro Barata, VP, Communications and Public Affairs, on what’s next for Community Benefits.

That means that in addition to building much-needed transit that connects communities, these projects can also provide pathways to better jobs, and more secure futures, for people living in poverty. This includes young people who face significant barriers to employment.

United Way was proud to play a key role in bringing this legislation to fruition by working with our partners—including Crosslinx, labour unions, the Toronto Community Benefits Network, the provincial government and the City of Toronto—to get the green light on this exciting initiative.

And at a recent Board of Trade summit, Premier Kathleen Wynne signaled her support to commit to local employment targets on the Eglinton Crosstown project.

We’re hopeful this will pave the way for scaling up career opportunities for young people who have faced barriers so that everyone can contribute and share in our prosperity.

Changemakers to watch: Hibaq Gelle

hibaq1Meet Hibaq Gelle. She’s a community mobilizer and a powerful youth champion committed to bringing good jobs to people in her Rexdale neighbourhood. Using innovative ways of working, she’s empowering community members to take ownership of their neighbourhood and revolutionizing the way community change is made.

WHO: For Hibaq, building vibrant communities isn’t just a pastime—it’s a commitment she lives and breathes every day. As a graduate of CITY Leaders, a leadership program co-certified by United Way and the University of Toronto, Hibaq knows a thing or two about empowering youth. A staple in many priority neighbourhoods across Toronto, she’s helped youth facing barriers, including poverty and racialization, connect to the programs and supports they need to thrive.

But Hibaq is not only passionate about bringing opportunities to youth here at home; her impact can be felt province-wide. As a political appointee on the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities, Hibaq—one of just 25 people selected by the Premier—represents Ontario’s youth by bringing their voices to the table. Most notably, Hibaq advised on Ontario’s Youth Action Plan, a crucial $55 million investment in programs and services to tackle issues like youth violence and unemployment so that young people can transition successfully into adulthood.

WHY: It’s no surprise Hibaq has become a well-known name in Rexdale—community activism is a family affair. “Growing up, my mom was a go-to resource in the community,” says Hibaq. “Whether she was organizing women’s programming or helping newcomers navigate community resources, if you needed support, she was the person you would turn to.” And although Hibaq has undoubtedly followed in her mom’s footsteps, she’s definitely carved her own path. “Young people are not succeeding in the way that they should be,” says Hibaq. “By engaging non-traditional stakeholders and community members, we can start building new tools to tackle local issues in entirely different ways.”

One of the big barriers: unemployment. The tool: Community Benefits Agreements—partnerships that connect residents from priority neighbourhoods to work opportunities on local infrastructure projects. It’s a new way of working that United Way is also behind. Just last year, our advocacy led to provincial legislation that ensures Community Benefits will be included in all provincially-funded infrastructure projects moving forward.

WHAT’S NEXT: While a fellow in MaRS’ prestigious Studio Y program, Hibaq created the My Rexdale project, where she began working to tap into planned infrastructure projects in Rexdale—like the proposed casino at Woodbine Racetrack—to connect youth, precariously employed individuals and newcomers to work opportunities spurred as a result of planned development. Through community outreach (and the massive billboard she leveraged next to Highway 27), the idea is on its way to having a big impact in the lives of residents—who are equally thrilled at the prospect of good jobs coming to their neighbourhood.

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And Hibaq’s Community Benefits work is just getting started. So far, she’s established a core team of community builders and is assembling a steering committee for the My Rexdale project. She’s also gotten Rexdale residents on-board through community consultations, door-to-door outreach and social media—educating community members about the investments coming so they can advocate on behalf of their community. “We need a strong base of support before we start conversations with big stakeholders,” says Hibaq. “The community is united behind it. This is just the beginning.”

GOOD ADVICE:

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The bottom line on social procurement

DAC May 2016

Denise Andrea Campbell
Director, Social Policy, Analysis and Research
City of Toronto

As the City of Toronto’s Director of Social Policy, Analysis and Research, Denise Andrea Campbell  has worked tirelessly to champion poverty reduction and youth success strategies in priority neighbourhoods. She has advised on strategy for leading foundations including The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and has also worked internationally on race and gender policies in numerous United Nations forums. In her guest blog post, Denise discusses how the City’s new social procurement program is helping create pathways to prosperity.

In 2006, community leaders in Flemingdon Park asked me why the City couldn’t hire young people through its procurement process.

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Community leaders knew that youth employment was key to neighbourhood development in Toronto. They knew that the City, together with United Way was committed to taking action on neighbourhood improvement with the recent launch of the first Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy. And they saw City construction projects—part of the City’s annual budget of $1.8 billion for goods and services—as a perfect opportunity to train and hire under-employed young people.

They believed the City could make it happen.

We did. It took us 10 years.

Procurement in a large institution like the City is often inflexible, governed by policies, laws, and decades-long industry practices that create seemingly insurmountable barriers to targeted spending.

But we also knew, as the community knew, that social procurement could be a game-changer.

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Social procurement has the power to create pathways to prosperity. Research indicates that Aboriginal and minority-owned businesses create jobs in their communities. The social enterprise business model  is all about creating social and economic benefits for marginalized groups. So if even 5% of our annual procurement were leveraged to create economic opportunities for those in poverty, that could be a $75 million investment towards inclusive economic development.

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Hawthorne Food & Drink, a social enterprise supported by the Toronto Enterprise Fund—a partnership between United Way and all three levels of government—employs individuals facing barriers including poverty and homelessness.

So we continued to push.

Working closely with partners, we began pilot initiatives to train and hire youth in a Weston-Mount Dennis youth space renovation in 2008, thanks to United Way funding. The City also worked with Toronto Community Housing and the Daniels Corporation to embed workforce development into the supply chain of the Regent Park Revitalization. And given my division’s focus on social development, we made sure to set an example, procuring from social enterprises whenever possible. A big win came in 2013 when City Council adopted a Framework for Social Procurement to move us from one-off successes to institutional practice.

Researching other jurisdictions, piloting approaches in City contracts, and building partnerships allowed us to have the evidence, the workable model, and a solid policy for Council to consider.

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United Way–supported social enterprises like Interpreter Services Toronto, which trains and employs newcomer and refugee women—are now in a better position to compete for, and benefit from, City contracts as diverse suppliers through the Toronto Social Procurement Program.

Three years and nine pilot projects later, on May 3, 2016, Toronto City Council unanimously adopted the Toronto Social Procurement Program. The program drives inclusive economic growth in Toronto by encouraging buyers and vendors to do business with certified diverse suppliers, including those owned by people from equity-seeking communities and social enterprises in all City procurement. A particular focus will be on contracts below $50,000 for which smaller businesses like social enterprises are better able to compete.

This 10-year journey has been long, and isn’t over yet. We’re taking steps to build a broader social procurement ecosystem. We want to create a climate that allows businesses owned by equity-seeking communities—women, racialized and Aboriginal peoples and newcomers—and social enterprises to compete for City contracts on their own or as part of a partnership. With the support of the Atkinson Foundation and with the participation of the United Way, we are also leading the AnchorTO Network to spread social procurement practices across all of Toronto’s public sector institutions.

So the next time community leaders ask us to create economic opportunities for their residents, we know we have built the foundation to now answer ‘yes.’

UPDATE: What is the precarity penalty?

Our guest blogger this week is Michelynn Laflèche, United Way Toronto & York Region’s Director of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation. Prior to joining United Way, she worked as a consultant with Civic Action and was Chief Executive of the Runnymede Trust, a leading social policy and research charity in the UK.

Michelynn Lafleche

Michelynn Laflèche
Director, Research, Public Policy and Evaluation
United Way Toronto & York Region

Job precarity is having a negative impact on the wellbeing of our residents—it’s something we’ve been talking about in our research for some time now.

What we’ve discovered in our newly released report, The Precarity Penalty: Executive Summary York Region is that this issue is widespread across York Region.  In fact, more than 40% of workers are in jobs with some degree of insecurity.

York Region—a place many consider affluent—is not immune to the problems facing Toronto’s downtown.

Our data tells us that people’s anxiety about work is interfering with their personal and family lives. More than half of the people surveyed earning low or middle incomes are experiencing this type of anxiety. The uncertainty of not knowing if and when you’ll work can be socially isolating.

Precarity-Penalty-YR-Bucket 3Not having access to childcare is another huge challenge for York Region residents—63.6% say it interferes with their work-life. How do you schedule your child’s daycare if your work schedule changes weekly or daily?

These challenges are real and significant, but they don’t paint the entire picture.  We also learned that in some instances, York Region residents actually fare better. Based on the sample size, we can’t draw definitive conclusions, but can make some interesting comparisons. We found that York Region residents who are precariously employed earn 10% higher individual incomes and 7% have higher household income.

All of this data is another important step in guiding and informing our work.  It underscores the need to address the growing issues that surround precarious employment and our commitment to do more.

And we are prepared to do more around this work with the help of our partners across all sectors. We’re committed to building a dynamic labour market, ensuring jobs are a pathway to employment and enhancing social supports for a new and improved labour market.

Building futures through Community Benefits

Pedro Barata

Our guest blogger this week is Pedro Barata, Vice President of Communications & Public Affairs at United Way Toronto & York Region. He has experience working within, and across community-based organizations, strategic philanthropy, and various levels of government.

When the Ontario Government passed Bill 6: Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, the province opened the door to ensuring that infrastructure planning and investment across the province includes community benefits.

These community benefits mean that we have the opportunity to strengthen communities every time we build infrastructure. It’s historic legislation, and United Way has helped bring this exciting idea to fruition, working alongside a growing movement that includes labour, community groups, agencies, local and provincial government, Metrolinx, foundations and local residents. In particular, we have dedicated ourselves to working with all our partners to create a multi-sector partnership that can more effectively connect residents from priority neighbourhoods with the career opportunities that will emerge from arising new rapid transit expansion.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see the real impact that legislation makes on people’s everyday lives. But for residents in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, the possibilities of the new legislation are already within sight.

Take the Eglinton Crosstown line, which is being built near five of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods. Thanks to a new Community Benefits Framework that involves Metrolinx, the provincial government and the community through the Toronto Community Benefits Network, the five-year, 19-kilometre-line will give local residents access to career opportunities. It is one example of how the new Bill 6 legislation can come into action. Recruitment, skills building, training programs and wraparound supports are now being brought together to give new skills to prospective workers and have people ready to help deliver this project on time, on budget and safely.

Community benefits are inspiring change. Bill 6 legislation enshrines community benefits as a smart, sustainable and transformative solution to build our region’s future. What’s new about this bill is that it actually names specific groups that are often left out of opportunities like this—at-risk youth, low-income communities, Aboriginal populations and people with disabilities.

United Way research shows a growing divide in access to opportunities for residents. At the same time, availability of skilled labour has been a constant concern amidst the region’s construction boom. Bill 6 signals a new era of collaboration, bringing the goals of government, labour, not-for-profits and business, closer together.

Sowing the seeds of employment through social enterprise

Mark-Cullen-Head-Shot_606x544Our guest blogger this week is Mark Cullen, Canada’s best known gardener. Mark connects with more than 2 million Canadians each week through his weekly gardening segment on CTV and his numerous books and online postings. He’s passionate about helping Canadians grow organic, healthy produce—and with his well-known sense of social responsibility—Mark actively participates in local, provincial and international developmental and educational programs. He is a volunteer spokesperson for SHARE Agricultural FoundationCanada Blooms Flower and Garden Festival, and the Composting Council of Canada. He is also a long-time friend and supporter of United Way Toronto. This includes the Toronto Enterprise Fund (TEF), a partnership between United Way and all levels of government that funds social enterprises providing individuals facing barriers with training and work opportunities. The following article, which has been edited and condensed, originally appeared on April 18, 2015, in the Toronto Star.

As I strolled into the boardroom, a stranger to this place and its people, I had no idea that the person who sat across from me had been living with serious challenges for many years.  Mental illness is like that.

Outwardly there are often no signs of the struggles in one’s past.  The evidence of a history of disabilities lies buried.  The symptoms are often clear enough: homelessness, joblessness, and, sometimes an inability to get up in the morning or to face another human being that day.

All I knew for sure was that I had been asked to join a meeting of professional gardeners. These people tend plants for a living and, at some point in their past, most of them were seen as unemployable but now work in a business that was born in the world of social enterprise.

I know something about running a business, as I have been doing it for a few decades.  But ‘social enterprise’?  That was a new one to me.

By definition, a company that employs marginalized people and is supported by a not-for-profit funding partner like United Way is called a social enterprise.  United Way’s TEF annual report explains, “TEF funds enterprises that connect people facing employment barriers with job training and work opportunities. Since its inception in 2000 TEF has funded 45 social enterprises, which have collectively employed and/or trained over 2,500 people. Currently we provide operating grants to a portfolio of 15 enterprises and seed funding to two.”

It was the good people at United Way Toronto who first introduced me to the idea a couple of years ago.  As I learned more about the concept, I offered the benefit of my business experience to them and they asked me to meet ad-hoc with Parkdale Green Thumb Enterprises (PGTE), a landscape maintenance company in the west end of the city.

Maggie Griffin has been responsible for running PGTE for over 11 years.  While she manages a business and deals with the usual challenges of dealing with suppliers, customer relations, and government interventions, her life is complicated by the fact that she employs people considered unemployable by many.  Imagine hiring a staff that consists of people who are at risk of homelessness, have struggled with living in poverty, addiction issues and/or mental illness.  Strike that suggestion, it is impossible for most of us to imagine it.

I like PGTE for a few reasons.

First, social enterprise just makes sense.  As Maggie says, “What people really want is a home, a job, and a friend.” Working in an environment that respects your human-hood can give you dignity that is hard to find in the hard scrabble, competitive world of “business as usual.”

Secondly, PGTE engages people in paid positions where they can experience the miracle of the healing power of plants while on payroll.  As one employee who did not want to be identified said, “The social aspect of Parkdale Green Thumb gave me the courage to apply for the job. Starting back to work was the single greatest leap forward toward living a full life again.  I was exercising, socializing and feeling productive. With each day I gained more confidence.  This has led to other employment, new friends, and a plan for the future.”

Today PGTE specialises in the installation and maintenance of plantings in business improvement areas around the west-centre core of the city.  They do not own a truck or cars for transportation so employees travel by TTC.  Last year they spent just over $6,000 on fares to get their people around to various jobs.  Knowing how much it costs to run a car for a year, this sounds like a good investment to me.

Should you be sitting on a street car someday when a couple of people wander on with hedge shears and a watering can in hand, you just might be witness to the Green Thumb work in progress.

What is the precarity penalty?

Our guest blogger is Dr. Wayne Lewchuk, co-author of The Precarity Penalty: The impact of employment precarity on individuals, households and communities―and what to do about it. Wayne is also a professor at McMaster University’s School of Labour Studies and Department of Economics.

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The Precarity Penalty

Today, PEPSO, a research partnership between United Way Toronto and McMaster University releases its new report, The Precarity Penalty: The impact of employment precarity on individuals, households and communities―and what to do about it. The Precarity Penalty examines the social and economic effects of short-term and insecure employment. It asks, what are the challenges facing workers in short-term employment in terms of getting ahead, establishing healthy households and participating in community life. The findings are troubling.

Uncertain future employment prospects can increase anxiety at home.  Lack of benefits can make even small unexpected medical costs a crisis.  Unpredictable work schedules can make finding suitable childcare very difficult.  The short-term nature of the employment relationship can limit a worker’s access to the training needed to get ahead. Together, the added challenges associated with insecure employment represent The Precarity Penalty.

In short, precarious employment not only creates significant stress on individuals and families today, it also creates conditions that can trap those who are in precarious employment from opportunities to get ahead.

Given that insecure employment is the fastest growing form of employment, we should all be concerned about what this means for our families, our children and our communities.

A new body of research (see references below), much of it focused on the troubles in the U.S. economy, suggests that public policy has fallen short, and at times exacerbated the challenges facing precarious workers. These policies have exposed workers to more economic uncertainty, reduced supports that help build healthy families and made it more difficult than in the past for workers to negotiate improved working conditions. There is evidence that Canada’s own public policy environment has not fared much better in terms of protecting vulnerable workers.

What policy has enabled, policy can change.  It is not inevitable that a growing number of Canadian workers find themselves in relationships that make it difficult to get ahead. The mechanisms we use to regulate labour markets, including how contracts are negotiated, how we set and enforce employment standards, how we support workers between jobs, how quality training is provided, and how workers can finance unexpected health costs and old age were all formed when permanent full-time employment was the norm.

We need to revisit these mechanisms in light of the spread of less secure employment and ensure that our public policies match the realities facing Canadians today.

Other countries have accepted this challenge. Canada can do the same.

REFERENCES

David Weil, The Fissured Workplace

Lawrence Mishel, The State of Working America

Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality

 

 

Big win on precarious employment

 

On November 6, the Ontario government passed new legislation that introduces further protections for vulnerable workers.

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PEPSO report highlights new labour reality

United Way Toronto, in partnership with McMaster University, was instrumental in bringing about changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, which included a call to government to introduce protections around lost wages for precariously employed individuals.

This new legislation is an important step forward in building a labour market that works.

Read more about precarious employment and its effects here:

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Precarious employment takes a toll

Job loss. Unemployment. Income gaps. Over the past couple of months—and during the lead up to Toronto’s recent municipal election—there’s been a lot of talk about all that ails the city’s increasingly fractured labour market. Job creation has slowed considerably. Toronto’s youth unemployment rate is more than double the national average. And the income gap between older and younger workers is growing at an alarming pace.

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This joint report between United Way and McMaster University examines our region’s rapidly-changing labour market

While the city’s muted job creation tends to grab most of the headlines, there’s an equally concerning labour trend afoot. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a 50% rise in precarious, or unstable employment, according to research conducted by United Way Toronto and McMaster University.

In fact, more than 40% of people in the Hamilton-GTA region experience some degree of precarity, or insecurity, in their work, which has serious economic and social consequences for Toronto.

As this recent Globe and Mail article points out, “the shift to a just-in-time labour market creates a host of difficulties for long-term planning, eligibility for jobless benefits, and often results in a diminished ability to save.” Erratic hours “also create challenges in pursing an education, arranging childcare and qualifying for a mortgage.”

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United Way’s Michelynn Laflèche recently appeared on TVO’s The Agenda to discuss precarious employment.

“Individuals in precarious work face many challenges,” says Michelynn Laflèche, United Way’s Director of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation, who recently appeared as a guest speaker on TVO’s The Agenda to discuss this new work reality. “They earn 46 per cent less than those who are securely-employed. They delay having families, are often unable to pay for their children’s extracurricular activities and experience higher levels of anxiety and stress. Precarity impacts the health of individuals and families and the way in which people can contribute to their communities.”

Fixing the problem won’t happen overnight. But solutions for mitigating the impact of unstable work on individuals, families and entire communities are already underway. “Our research, combined with United Way’s influence, was instrumental in bringing about changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act by introducing protections around lost wages for precariously-employed individuals,” says Wayne Lewchuk, a co-author of the “It’s More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being” report and a professor in the economics and labour studies department at McMaster University.

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“Closing the Prosperity Gap” looks at solutions for reducing income and employment inequality

The findings of this report also helped spark a much larger conversation about how to build a better labour market that works for everyone.  “I think we have to make employers in the government, private and charitable sectors understand what the risks are to families, communities and to businesses,” says Laflèche.  “We need to build a case that helps employers think about how to operational their business in a way that  treats people with dignity and respect and provides the kind of support people need to live a decent life.”

Buy Social: Redefining what the economy can achieve

Guest blogger Andrew Holeton has worked in the social enterprise sector for 15 years, holding operational, policy and advocacy roles. Since 2010 he has been with the Learning Enrichment Foundationleading various development projects, including a maintenance contract for Toronto’s Bixi Bicycle system.Andrew

 Andrew is a long-time member of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet). He is also active on the steering committee of Social Enterprise Toronto (SET) and represents SET on the executive committee of Business Done Differently, a Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

My CCEDNet colleague Brendan Reimer recently said, “Every time we spend a dollar, we shape the world we live in.” Since discovering social enterprise 15 years ago, I’ve grown to admire an environment that recognizes people’s abilities, accommodates for challenges and gets folks to work. Right now in the social enterprise world, there is an unmistakable sense that we are on the cusp of something big. And there is a growing agreement amongst people that social and environmental sustainability are no longer just nice to have extras; they are goals that we absolutely and fundamentally must achieve.

Progress elsewhere is heartening. In the UK, social enterprises contributed £18 billion to the GDP in 2013. And the Social Value Act is now into its second year of encouraging public sector procurement officers to achieve social impact in purchasing. The UK has managed to make these significant investments in social enterprise at the same time as they have exacted major social service cuts. Faced with the same restraints, Canada has introduced similar cuts, yet spread them out over 20 years, without investing in a sustainable alternative. Sadly our regulations for government procurement don’t recognize social value. Major legislative change and political are needed to achieve this.

The non-profit I work for, the Learning Enrichment Foundation, is committed to implementing a social procurement policy. Though we do purchase from social enterprises, it’s not nearly as much as we could. We’ve come to the realization that we need to be more deliberate and to track how well we do. As we develop our policy, we’re grateful to benefit from the experience of others and to share our learning with non-profit colleagues.

In some ways, the private sector is well ahead of us. American federal government purchasing has required supply chain diversity for some time, even funding third parties to complete a certification process. Canadian companies doing business in the US are no strangers to this, and similar certification is now being introduced in Canada. In the next 6 to 18 months, we’ll also likely see US and Canadian certification for social enterprises which will be based on who the business employs or impacts. Diversity procurement officers in private sector companies are already on board, and it may well open up a whole new range of market opportunities for both existing and new social enterprises.

The best news is that consumer support of social enterprise and business with a social impact is clearly on the rise. The number of social businesses, products and services available is also increasing. If we really want this to work, we need government on board, and smart long-term investment to create an ecosystem that grows both supply and demand. It’s a far cry from what it could be. For now, we need to continue to support social enterprises whenever possible and advocate for others to do the same. But make no mistake—we’re actively embracing the idea that a successful economy is one that is inclusive and sustainable.

United Way Toronto is committed to helping people reach their full potential so that they can move from a life of poverty to one full of possibility. Through the Toronto Enterprise Fund, an innovative partnership with all three levels of government, United Way Toronto supports sustainable social enterprises that connect people facing barriers to employment with job training and work opportunities. Learn more about the Toronto Enterprise Fund.

Getting to the bottom of Toronto’s mixed jobs news

There’s been a lot of talk in the past couple of weeks about what last month’s disappointing employment numbers—the Canadian economy lost 45,900 jobs in December, 39,000 of them in Ontario—means for our country, and especially for Toronto, which was particularly hard hit.

With an unemployment rate that jumped to 10.1 percent, Toronto now has higher unemployment than any major Canadian city except  St. Catharines—and higher than any province except P.E.I. and Newfoundland. (The Toronto metropolitan area sits lower, at 7.7 percent—below the national average, but higher than most other urban areas.)

From all the news, views and data released in the past few weeks, two big points from the data jumped out at us:

It’s even harder for youth and newcomers
In December, the youth unemployment rate in the Toronto metropolitan area was 15.4 percent, nearly the highest in Canada.

For newcomers, the numbers are worse. The December unemployment rate for newcomers who have been in Canada for five years or less was 15.2 percent—again, nearly the highest of any city in the country.

Despite rising unemployment, Toronto’s job creation is still outpacing the national average

So why the higher unemployment? The data, says an economist quoted last week by the Toronto Star, is “sending mixed signals.” Indeed, Mayor Rob Ford said last week that “more people are employed in this city…than three years ago,” which is true. But even more working-age people have moved here in that time. We’re outpacing the national average in job creation, but even more in population growth, driven largely by immigration.

The past couple of weeks have seen all sorts of ideas bandied about for solutions to Toronto’s employment troubles, from raising the minimum wage to improving employment supports for newcomers.

So what do you think Toronto needs to do to create more and better jobs–especially for newcomers and young people? Share your thoughts in the comments.

A holiday gift to Ontario workers

Ten months ago, United Way shone a spotlight on the troubling reality of precarious employment. We knew that the labour market had changed dramatically in just a few short decades. Our report revealed that close to 40 percent of residents working in the Toronto and Hamilton area work in jobs without benefits or long-term stability.

We had to act. So we invited our partners and Torontonians to join us in a growing conversation about the issue, and identify ways we can work together to tackle it.

Today we’re pleased to see that the Government of Ontario has responded to our call for action. They’ve tabled legislation offering increased protection for precarious workers, meaning that important Employment Standards concerns will be addressed, making a vital difference for a growing number of workers and their families.

Alongside these important legislative changes, Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi announced last week that the province will fulfill its 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy commitment to invest $10 million of new funding into employment-standards enforcement.

This all comes as welcome news for individuals, families and our community. We encourage each and every one of you to continue to work with us in pushing for more progress in the area of employment security.

Cause for concern, cause for action

Last week, Matthew Mendelsohn, director of The Mowat Centre, spoke for an audience of United Way donors and partners about the fast-growing problem of precarious employment.

“Precarious” probably isn’t a word you want to associate with your paycheque. But 40% of workers in the GTA and Hamilton are working in jobs that exhibit some degree of precariousness: stringing together short-term contracts, working several part-time jobs instead of a full-time position, or working freelance, among other non-traditional work arrangements. (Traditional employment being full-time, on-going, and usually with benefits.) Some are more vulnerable than others, of course—many freelancers and consultants choose that flexibility. But employment precarity has increased nearly 50% in the past 20 years, and while it’s most prevalent among low-income earners, it’s fast becoming a middle-class issue as well.

As Mendelsohn describes the issue, it’s all about risk: Who bears it, and who takes responsibility for it.


Traditionally, the burden of risk—of an employee falling sick, having an accident, getting laid off—was borne by the employee, the employer and the government. But with the rise of precarious employment and the erosion in the “social contract” between employers and employees, that burden is shifting, in a big way, to individuals. What does all this mean? Essentially, people facing uncertainty are likelier to postpone fundamental life decisions: starting a family, buying a home, etc. More troubling, says Mendelsohn, rates of intergenerational mobility—the assumption that young people will be at least as well off as their parents—has been eroding, throwing into doubt the “Canadian promise” that has been so attractive to newcomers.



Of course, some people prefer non-standard working arrangements—they appreciate the added flexibility in a dynamic economy. The challenge is to implement public policy to make non-traditional working arrangements, well, work better. This means investing in social infrastructure – housing, transit, childcare, recreation, early childhood education—to ensure the burden of risk is once again more evenly shared between government, employers and individuals. Below, Mendelsohn addresses just a few of the realistic public policy responses to the rise of precarious work.

For a really in-depth look at the issue, check out It’s More Than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being, a report prepared earlier this year by United Way and Hamilton’s McMaster University. And be sure to share your thoughts or experiences about this emerging economic reality.