By PAT WATSON
Have you had days recently where you actually have less money than the persons positioned on the city sidewalks asking for your spare change?
Have you had days where your liquid assets, once acquired, can do little more than buy food basics?
When you look in your refrigerator or cupboard are you down to the things that you had otherwise overlooked for months?
Are you giving up buying your medication in order to pay the phone bill so that you can keep the line open for that hoped for new job? Is that what’s keeping you awake at night?
A call comes from a relative in the Caribbean who never before asked for financial help. He needs $200, and – this being Canada, a land of wealth and opportunity – you are his only hope. Except, it won’t be possible to help him out. He understands, he says. It’s because of the recession.
If you are the kind of person who lives by faith, do you feel that now is a time that your faith is being tested? We keep hearing that the recession is coming to an end, but those who have lost jobs and are still struggling, even as the employment/unemployment payments are coming to an end, are stressed. People are losing sleep over it; families are in turmoil over it. We are living in challenging times.
The number of people receiving Employment Insurance (EI) benefits continues to increase month over month with increases being the greatest here in Ontario followed by Alberta; more than three-quarters of a million, the highest figure since 1997, according to Statistics Canada.
Looking ahead, this recession has us at a local unemployment rate of 9.5 per cent, close to one in 10 persons. Close to a quarter of a million receive welfare support in Toronto currently and that number is expected to increase as EI benefits run out for some. In the recession of the 1990s, unemployment in Toronto came close to 12 per cent while the welfare caseload reached 126,500 by March 1994. If those numbers mean anything, at the very least it means we are not alone in this economic crisis.
As if the climate had not been difficult enough, we have just come through a city workers’ strike that riled many, especially the unemployed, who found it hard to sympathize with employed persons asking for more. As the mounds of garbage grew at temporary dumpsites, people found that the demand for increased wages in a recession literally stank.
But who can blame workers for wanting more pay? This world economy is predicated on the ethos of ‘more’. It is that ethos that has us in yet another recession in the first place.
So how are people really coping? For one, more people are making use of food banks. With over one million visits, Toronto area food banks set a new record during the past one-year period ending in May. (By the way, on a good day you may come across free product sample distributions at some city intersections-Yonge and Eglinton being one such popular distribution point.)
For another, applications are up for low-level, low skill jobs in the retail-marketing sector, for instance. Also, among the youth, who traditionally experience the highest unemployment rates, university and college students are applying in higher numbers for scholarships and grants. It’s been especially difficult for students to find summer jobs and, of course, that strike was a hindrance toward that end. A cooler than normal July didn’t help either.
Yet, still coping, because most of us are devoted to shopping, even though many are holding off on buying big-ticket items, there appears to be an increase in the number of shoppers getting their retail therapy at thrift stores where, among other good buys, you can find a used big screen TV for under $50. Some families have pared down to using one car.
During the great recession of the 1930s, many people found their inner strength in a time of crisis. In these uncertain economic times we are being challenged to do the same.
On a note of reserve…
At the Saturday afternoon matinee of The Harder They Come the cast gave a ska-reggae rocking performance capped off by an invitation to the audience to get up out of the seats and get in on the musical vibe. But, with the exception of a few dancehall holdovers, the crowd proved once again why this city has a reputation for having some of the most reserved audiences. Sometimes we take Canadian politeness a bit too far.