June 8, 2011

Talking about jobs

Here is a report back on conversations with candidates. So far we have talked with half a dozen candidates who ran for MP in Waterloo Region. Green, liberal, conservative and NDP.

We asked what they heard from people on the doorstep. One thing they almost all said was that people were not talking about poverty.

The number one thing people were talking about?Jobs. Not being able to find a job. Having lost a decent paying job and finding one that does not let them make ends meet. Worry about whether their kids could find a good job -- or any job. Recent immigrants not being able to find jobs that used their skills or paid a decent wage.

This in a region with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

A close second was anxiety about being able to afford things. For some households it was the cost of gas. For others the cost of food. For some their hydro and heating bills. For people on fixed income, seniors in particular, property taxes and utility bills.

Maybe people did not say poverty. But there seems to be a real sense of economic insecurity out there.

I am tempted to think it is just that the economic recession is not over for a lot of people, no matter what the official unemployment numbers say.

But I think the problem runs deeper. Ontario has been losing decent paying manufacturing jobs for years. Even before the great recession we had lost a lot of well-paying jobs. A recent Globe and Mail article documented the tremendous growth in temp agencies, providing jobs with a lot less pay and no benefits.

And it has been well documented that most families even before the recession were putting in far more hours at work than their parents a generation before just to maintain the same level of income.

And yet, the ten years before the recession were years of uninterrupted economic growth. Our national income was growing, it's just that the jobs that are around are leaving many of us feeling like we are falling behind.

This strikes me as a real challenge to us all. One candidate said he thought that jobs were closely linked to poverty. I could not agree more.

Poverty is not a good thing. And none of us wants to see ourselves as being poor. But when you cannot earn enough to make ends meet, or to be free from worrying whether you'll be able to pay the bills next month, that takes a toll. It takes a toll on us individually. And it takes a toll on us as a community.

Sadly, I do not think the election campaign offered much to address the anxiety people voiced to candidates.

There was a vague sense that the federal government had managed the economy well during the recession. At least better than many other countries. But people are still worried about finding and keeping decent jobs. Some named the federal infrastructure program as one thing that helped us through the recession. That program has provided real jobs. Decent paying jobs. But the stimulus program is over. Now the federal government is focused on cutting budgets and cutting jobs.

It raises the question, what can we expect our governments to do about securing good jobs for us. Can governments do anything? Or do we just have to put our hope in the whims of the market and our personal efforts to make the most of what the job market has to offer?


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Greg. Just came across this article... now there is a government that's doing something big!

  2. An interesting article Ken. Thanks. I was struck by the remark that poverty is a bigger challenge than any fiscal crisis. "We can't forget that the most permanent, challenging and harrowing crisis is having chronic poverty in this country".