Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Poverty, Canadian Style

So I was reading the Calgary Herald yesterday morning and came across a great editorial on poverty in Canada.  As I am always fascinated by what people in this country do to become less economically endowed, I was very pleased to see a breakdown of sorts in this editorial.

Calgary Herald Editorial (note: this link is active until October 2nd only)
Here's a bit of a synopsis:
A recent press release from Vibrant Communities Calgary, a wing of the national poverty- reduction body of the same name, asserts nearly one Calgarian in four is living in poverty, despite being employed. The group based its conclusion on an analysis of Calgary's low earners as reported by Statistics Canada.”

“StatsCan's figures reveal 112,000 Calgarians in 2004 earned less than $10 per hour, out of a total of 497,900 persons over the age of 15 years holding jobs. However, “it doesn't necessarily follow they live in poverty.”

What that report doesn’t say is how many of those people are still living at home; have another full time job; are retired and have a part-time job to stay busy, have a partner who supports them; have investment income and have a part time job doing something fun.

Sadly, although there are myriad reasons a person ends up with poor earning power, in an alarming number of cases, people end up with low incomes for reasons that could be avoided. Dropping out of school – particularly high school – is not a good plan. No matter what, it is a career- and life-limiting move.

According to an article published in 2002 in a British business magazine, fully 80% of the world’s millionaires don’t have a university degree. What they have is moxie and drive combined with having finished high school and usually a couple years’ college, trade school or university.

Of the many other avoidable things that negatively impact a person’s disposable cash and future finances, smoking is a biggie: one pack per day equals about $3470 annually, not to mention the added cost of throat lozenges, cold medicine, and stop-smoking treatments. Smoking kills a lot of things; a person’s drive, their brain cells, their lung capacity and their heart function. Ultimately, smoking often kills the smoker, who often has inadequate or no life insurance.  Smoking doesn’t contribute to being ‘on’ at work either: addictions tend to borrow a lot of brain time. Bad all round.

Drinking too much: one bottle of wine per day: $10 or so; that equals nearly $4000 annually. Ok, perhaps most people don’t have a bottle a day, and I have no idea what the cost of gin/vodka/beer is. It seems, however, and this is just my observation, that those who have less than they need are sometimes more likely to spend on non-essentials. Yes a person should be able to have some pleasures in life, and yes, many low income earners are completely responsible with their money, but dollars spent on ciggies and/or booze would go a lot further towards increasing income were they spent on education or an RSP.

Another money pit pursuit is gambling and bingo in particular. As an occasional and very reluctant volunteer (due to the smoking), I am appalled by the waste of money that happens in bingo halls. I paid attention at one event to the average sale: $37. Add to that food bought at the hall, ciggies consumed there (1/2 a pack for many participants) and the gas to get there and home. Bingo is NOT a cheap sport. Some people were spending upwards of $70 a night – and coming there three times a week! Even at $70 once a week over a year, that’s over $3300 annually. Now combine that with the cost of smoking and the annual cost of a university degree and books is landing in the huge garbage bins at the bingo halls.

At an event one night a co-volunteer overheard a bingo player saying “I sure hope the food bank is still open when we’re done.” Seriously folks, if you’re relying on the food bank to feed your kids and yourself, you don’t have money for bingo and smokes.

For the record, I don’t care if people smoke and/or drink/play bingo. I care that people smoke, drink and play bingo and bitch about how little money they have or how they can’t afford a better car or an education or to put their kid into a sport. “I claim bullshit,” to quote another friend.

Anyway, taking all this stuff as relative, if you compare the poverty cutoff amount in Canada ($20,337) to the average annual wage in Dominican or Haiti (about $1200 in a good year), it kinda makes a person reconsider what poverty is exactly, in a rich country. Poverty is when you simply don’t have enough to live on. I think if a person has money to live on, but chooses to spend it on non-essentials like smoking, drinking, gambling, tattoos, I dunno – whatever -- rather than shelter, food and clothing, then they’re not necessarily poverty-stricken; they’re just not responsible.

If you want to know about real poverty, go here: HAITI ARISE

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