By PAT WATSON
A woman tells the story of her working life over the past 20 years. She explains that in the early 90s she held a well paying administrative position in municipal government. At that time, she was earning a respectable $37,000 annually. She had benefits, she had three weeks of paid vacation, and she had a growing investment portfolio. But ill health led to job loss.
She has since recovered her health but not that former level of earning. Despite upgrading her education, she continues to have difficulty in the job market. These days, she ekes out a living on half of what she used to earn, has no benefits and no investments.
Her story is not unique.
In a report titled “Vital Signs”, the Toronto Community Foundation says that since 1970, when 66 per cent of Toronto neighbourhoods were identified as being middle income, the city’s middle class neighbourhoods have seen a decrease, so that today only 29 per cent of neighbourhoods are so designated. More than one million Torontonians now live in areas no longer considered middle class.
As we look a little deeper into this shifting socio-economic climate, another dimension to the problem is that recent immigrants who are university educated have a significantly higher rate of unemployment – at almost 14 per cent – than university educated Canadian-born workers at almost four per cent.
Immigrant workers who are not university educated also face a higher unemployment rate than both university educated immigrants and Canadian-born workers with no university education. Compared to the national unemployment rate of 8.1 per cent, 19.5 per cent of immigrants with no university education are unemployed according to another study, this one released by Community Foundations of Canada.
But in case that campfire story is not scary enough, put those findings together with the recent warning by TD Bank that job creation in Canada, after the supposed end of the recession in 2009, is expected to slow in the coming months. The bank predicts the national unemployment rate will not budge for at least another couple of years.
Trying to cope with all this, some lay the blame on China, for one, allowing that North American workers cannot compete with the low wage environment on the other side of the globe. Those who have a broader worldview blame outsourcing and economic trade allowances that lower the barriers for companies to take their businesses to wherever their products can be produced the cheapest. Yet, so many workers over there are making a beeline for this side of the working world as fast as the immigration paperwork can be formalized.
The state of affairs is that so many people, some 250,000 annually, especially from South and East Asia – which best the West in low wage manufacturing jobs – choose to make a new life in Canada because they want what we purportedly have, a better standard of living and enhanced wages. Here is the tragic irony.
What is left for job seeking newcomers and those already here is the growing service sector, essentially low wage jobs with no real promise of advancement or career growth. It’s a long way to come to find that one is really not that far from home – job wise.
So despite politicians near and far running manoeuvres to distract the populace from matters of real concern, what we are desperate for are workable, coherent and humane social planning policies that address the threatening realities of working class people all across this nation.
In the meantime, it seems there are jobs waiting in the oilfields out west, paying an hourly wage of $23 with a $45 daily allowance.
A note on saying adieu…
Looking back, one of the most riveting memories of Michaëlle Jean’s tenure as Canada’s 27th Governor General came with the picture that ran in the dailies in October 2005 (above the fold) when she met with then U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice in Ottawa. It really was something to see these two Black women in positions of enormous influence in their confab. That photo op was a tremendous statement about the potential of Black women in the world today. The greater reality, though, is that far too many capable Black women will not encounter such prospects in current Western corporate and political spheres.