Commentary

Tackling Poverty Together

Presentation by Terry Cooke to the Conference Board of Canada.

By Terry Cooke
Published May 18, 2010

Editor's Note: Hamilton Community Foundation president Terry Cooke made this presentation to the Conference Board of Canada on May 17, 2010. It is published here with permission.

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today to talk about the important work on the social-economic determinants of health that you are addressing here at the Conference Board of Canada.

Canada is increasingly a separate and unequal society. Over the past 40 years, my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario has become an economically segregated community, divided by income and geography.

Concentrated poverty is the moral challenge of our generation.

Hamilton Spectator reporter Steve Buist and researcher Neil Johnston's groundbreaking work "Code Red", clearly demonstrates that our city is losing ground economically and compounding its problems by limiting where our poorest citizens can live, go to school and work.

But beyond a sense of human compassion and concern about the health costs of inner city poverty, why should you even care? If your family is fortunate enough to live in a better neighbourhood and you generally avoid spending time in the inner city, does this trend towards concentrated urban poverty even affect you?

North American urban experience and years of research confirms that poverty anywhere is bad, but concentrated poverty inevitably spreads, undermining economic growth, property values, health and educational outcomes across entire regions.

How did we get here? The rusting of Hamilton industry started the downward economic spiral for much of our north and east ends. Our uncompetitive tax rates discouraged new private sector job creation. Working families who glued together older neighbourhoods left to escape pollution and find careers elsewhere.

One way streets created virtual highways in older areas, moving large volumes of traffic quickly from downtown to the suburbs, with little appreciation for their negative impact on local neighbourhoods and businesses.

Regional government in the 1970s further fuelled middle class flight, providing the financing and infrastructure for low density suburban housing. Developers targeted "exclusive" middle and upper class buyers, and local planning policies largely prevented smaller, affordable units or residential care facilities for people with lower incomes or disabilities.

But instead of trying to stabilize home ownership and focus on brownfield remediation to create new jobs in older neighbourhoods, we mostly abandoned the north end to illegal apartments, absentee landlords and public housing. We used tax dollars to subsidize residential sprawl and build suburban business parks unreachable by public transit.

This restricted housing options for people with low incomes and high needs in neighbourhoods that were already struggling. Suburban growth pressure was not unique to Hamilton, but it had more devastating results here than in more progressive cities that avoided segregating the poor.

Syracuse University Professor Gerald Grant recently published an important book called Hope and Despair in the American City. It contrasts the abysmal performance of neighbourhoods and schools in Grant's native Syracuse, New York with the more positive experience in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Why? Because Raleigh integrated every school by family income levels and gave their teachers the tools to innovate; Syracuse continued to concentrate poor kids together in the inner city.

In 1998, Raleigh set a goal to have 95 percent of grade 3-8 students proficient in math at a time when a majority of inner city kids were failing. Today, a mere 12 years later, they are at 91 percent.

Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon, with a rusting manufacturing base like Hamilton's, dramatically restricted sprawl and focused its redevelopment around Light Rail Transit, renewing mixed income older neighbourhoods and creating new jobs in small knowledge based businesses. Today, Portland is a stunning example of economic rebirth and diversification.

There are lessons for Hamilton in the very different experiences of Portland, Raleigh and Syracuse. Syracuse was unwilling to talk about the uncomfortable facts of neighbourhood and school segregation. Portland and Raleigh relished the clash of ideas and civic engagement and accepted the need to make fundamental changes to achieve income diversity in schools and neighbourhoods.

The evidence is clear: diversity is critical to our economic success. The diversity I am talking about includes not only diversity by race, gender, religion and sexual orientation, but also - and perhaps most critically - income.

Neighbourhoods and schools that are made up of mixed income children tend to do well and those that are segregated by income tend to do poorly. They are healthier, they are literate, and they are graduates. They have a better chance of getting and keeping a job and, as a result, the city has a better chance of attracting and keeping investment.

To end the cycle of poverty in Hamilton, we must be willing to have a blunt conversation about our neighbourhoods and our neighbours; about our schools and their performance; about the health of our citizens and the magnets we need to glue modern-day investment into place.

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman recently wrote:

Looking at the sobering evidence presented in the past few days, you may ask if I am filled with hope or despair. The answer is hope, tempered by the hard reality of the work ahead. And here, the Hamilton Community Foundation and citizens of Hamilton have some stories to tell.

Six years ago, the Foundation had the foresight to make poverty its priority, working with partners to establish the Poverty Roundtable and Jobs Prosperity Collaborative to attack poverty at its roots. HCF also directly funded many initiatives that give us cause for optimism ... let me tell you about just one.

Planning teams that include service providers and many local residents are working to improve the quality of life in eight challenged Hamilton neighbourhoods. These "hubs" are becoming "one-stop" service centres to address poverty effectively by offering critical supports while building neighbourhood capacity.

Perhaps most importantly, civic engagement in the neighbourhoods is expanding. Local citizens are taking ownership of where they live and making positive changes. Measureable results confirm that working together, we can start to change and lift up these areas.

But to change the overall trajectory of our city, we must do more that just support and build capacity in neighbourhoods and schools that remain economically segregated "poverty traps".

We need to find the courage to confront our past planning mistakes and take a different path, committing to a future where all of our schools, neighborhoods and workplaces integrate people of all income levels to begin reversing the devastating consequences of concentrated poverty.

Hamilton needs to become more competitively attractive to private sector jobs that pay living wages. Plus, we must continue pressuring senior levels of government to provide a guaranteed annual income for those who require social assistance.

A west harbour Pan Am Stadium, Light Rail Transit and full-day GO service create a remarkable opportunity to leverage massive capital investments to begin transforming Hamilton's inner city neighborhoods into healthy, sustainable and more economically integrated places.

Working together and facing up to some hard truths, I believe that we can overcome the challenge of concentrated poverty and make Hamilton the best place in Canada to raise a child. And we hope the lessons from our experiences in Hamilton can help to add urgency and context to the debate about poverty across the country.

Terry Cooke is the President and CEO of Hamilton Community Foundation.

62 Comments

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 15:55:24

How come people never mention Portland's high employment rate?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 18, 2010 at 16:21:41

^I think you mean their high unemployment rate. The reason behind this is fascinating.

A huge proportion of in-migrants to Portland move there for the urban environment / quality of life and don't actually have jobs waiting for them - so many that the steady inflow of new residents from the rest of the USA actually has a measurable effect on the unemployment rate.

At any given moment, there are literally enough new residents who haven't found jobs yet that the unemployment rate is higher than the national average.

I should also point out that Portland is frequently recognized as a great city for entrepreneurship. As Adrian Duyzer recently argued on RTH, developing a culture of new, high-growth companies has better employment prospects than luring established companies from elsewhere.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 18:35:29

exactly. The quality of life is so great compared to most US cities that people move there even without a job....the jobs can't keep up with the migration. Imagine living in a city where people actually WANT to move there, regardless of whether there is work for them or not.

One small example of Portland's entrepreneurship can be found in coffee houses right here in Hamilton. Check the inside label of your coffee cup 'sleeve' the next time you're at The Courtyard or My Dog Joe. Yep, that's right. Made in Portland. When people fall in love with their urban environment, the creative juices will flow and they'll figure out a way to pay the bills and not have to move to some filthy industrial centre just for a job.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-05-18 17:38:16

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 18:37:52

oh, and by the way, this flies in the face of all commonly taught theories of building an economy or building a healthy city. Clinton was wrong. It's NOT the economy, stupid.
Build the quality of life and the economy will follow.

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By renaissance (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 18:41:22

"When people fall in love with their urban environment, the creative juices will flow and they'll figure out a way to pay the bills and not have to move to some filthy industrial centre just for a job."

Beautiful and true. Admins, please front-page this!

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 19:44:36

Without a guaranteed income for those who have to access social services, then those who struggle, will remain struggling. You can have mixed neighbourhoods and schools but if say there was a school trip or even pizza days, well those children who live in poverty cannot afford such luxuries and will be left out and this does cause a lot of stress and friction in the homes.

I just came back form a forum on Toronto and well, it is the life experiences of those who live in poverty that need to be heard. They are the ones that need to be part of the solution.

One area that Mr Cook did not focus in on is the rise of precarious, contract and part time work, where your getting your rights as a worker enforced is not always so easy. You can file a complaint but in most cases, you are terminated and those without the dollars to hire lawyers, are left with no recourse for justice. There is no legal aid for employment issues and the legal clinics do not address these issues as well.

I went for an interview last week and it was explained that it was contract, meaning you are self employed, however, under the federal tax law, Self Employed or an Employee there is criteria. You are not self employed if the employer sets the hours of work, supplies all the tools and direction. This loop hole that allows employers to get away with this needs to be closed and at a municipal level, our leaders should be pressuring both the feds and province to ensure these loop holes are closed and that when employees file complaints, that they are not the losers.

Even last year when the Human Rights Commission came to Hamilton, they said that they are getting many calls from workers who do not qualify under Human Rights, yet have no other options left. The desparation for workers is growing out there.

The only thing left is to organize workers to start fighting back, to educate them about their rights, to give them the tools so that they can fight back for justice.

One does have to look at the fact the under the Ontario Works Act 1997, then when you sign on the bottom line for welfare, you are signing away your rights under employment standards.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-05-18 18:47:21

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 20:47:15

>> Canada is increasingly a separate and unequal society. Over the past 40 years, my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario has become an economically segregated community, divided by income and geography.

A great way to help poor people would be to reduce the cost of housing. How do you do that? Get government out of the way. In the following article, left leaning Paul Krugman says this about the recent US housing bubble..."In other words, the Zoned Zone is prone to housing bubbles."

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/08/opinion/08krugman.html?_r=2

Jason >> The quality of life is so great compared to most US cities that people move there even without a job....the jobs can't keep up with the migration.

According to wikipedia, Portland's population grew 5.4% from 2000-08, while sprawling Atlanta grew by 29%. Even though Atlanta attracted far more people, it still has a lower unemployment rate...

http://www.bls.gov/web/metro/laummtrk.htm

Here are the median income numbers, notice that Atlanta is higher than Portland...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highest-income_metropolitan_statistical_areas_in_the_United_States

Here is a comparison of housing costs between Atlanta and Portland...

http://www.trulia.com/home_prices/Oregon/Portland-heat_map/

http://www.trulia.com/home_prices/Georgia/Atlanta-heat_map/

Notice that the cost of housing in Portland is about double that of Atlanta. You can confirm this by going to realtor.com and looking around both cities.

So, in Portland, where land use is tightly controlled by the government, there is more unemployment, lower wages and higher housing costs. How does that help poor people?

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By Hypo (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 06:59:38

Mr. Cooke seems to have had a conversion on his way to Damascus. Here is the king of sprawl who presided over some of the worst decsions made by the city; who until yesterday represented sprawl developers (Matamy anyone?) now talking about containing sprawl...his hypocrisy is palpable.

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By Times change (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 08:16:30

^Guess you haven't been following Mr. Cooke for a few years. His Speculator column was a regular blast of awesome in a paper which normally seems embarrassed Hamilton even HAS a downtown. Fair to say he came by his urbanism honestly.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:09:33

I've got a new drinking game ...

  • every time A Smith gets voted down below 0, take a drink
  • every time grassroots uses the phrase "those who struggle", take a drink

I'll be under the table soon.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-05-19 10:09:59

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 13:10:10

Moylek: I really wonder about people like yourself, who lack the moral compass to have a real understanding of the trial and tribulations of people who may have to access welfare.

While you may have a post secondary education and a good job out there at the university does not necessarily mean you are the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor does that mean that you are an engaging member of the community.

So in light of your comment I suggest that everyone takes a drink when you post your comments that lack any real insight into the issues that many other community members face.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 13:34:16

grassroots, if Ontario introduced a guaranteed annual income, how much would it be for someone living in Hamilton?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 13:41:17

^I think Moylek's just saying you use that catch phrase alot...maybe too often. Poor people are never "poor", they're always "those who struggle". Which has a connotation that we aren't allowed to feel anything other than sympathy. Sympathy's nice but doesn't help us to get more real understanding of what to do about poverty.

Comment edited by nobrainer on 2010-05-19 12:42:15

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By EverybodyforMayor (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 13:56:40

I think A Smith should be Mayor....Grassroots, you should be the downtrodden!!

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 19, 2010 at 14:15:41

So much for a bit of light, humorous meta-content. I'm reminded of an old joke ...

... but I guess that this isn't the place for that :)

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 14:38:22

No Brainer: Thank you for your input, struggling, poor, same thing, is it not.

What to do about poverty, well a start is to hear the life experiences of those who are accessing social services and how hard it really is to navigate the system. Each individual story is different and many who are on social services, welfare or even ODSP do not want to be there.

There are many things we can do, my focus is on workers rights of unorganized workers, educating workers about their rights, giving them the information about employment standards, OH & S, what to expect if you do file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour or even OH $ S. The process can be long and you may not always get justice, as with the case of uncollectible wages owed to workers, over 100,000,000 in the last five years alone.

If you do not hear the life experience stories, then how can you really learn how to change things or what people really need. Just listening to those who work for the government or the not for profit agencies or any range of experts who do not live the experience, will not give you the real insight that you need, as an individual tax payer to decipher where and what the problems are and how to solve them. I hope this makes sense.

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By Mr. Absurd (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 15:35:56

Yep, a lot to be done. Not sure how much of it will be done talking to the Conference Board of Canada, but that's good for a chuckle too.

Labour legislation that raises minimum wage and blocks the loop holes that exploit part-time and contract work would be a start.

Portland looks like a very good place to live, if you can afford it. It appears you must at least have sufficient savings to live on while you do your entrepreneurial start-up. If not, you end up some place like Atlanta where the livin' ain't easy but you can hang in working a few hours at The Wally.

Hamilton has built a community where people may not want to live, but must to access the services and cheap rents required when living in poverty. Entrepreneurialism such as at The Pearl Company is often stifled because, by definition, it does not follow the rules. Government had the opportunity to support more affordable housing in the former Cannot Hotel, but political pressure helped kill that, and make the building the fine institution it is today.

But another speech to the conference board ought to fix that all up. Not to mention a few columns of finger-wagging on RTH. That and a new arena that will break up a residential community and not function for its primary tenant.

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By ThinkingMan (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 15:37:21

@Hypo. Cooke is pure genius.

Looks like he spent the first 1/2 of his career creating the problems, and then the second half of his career working to fix the problems he had a hand in creating.

Pure genius, I tell ya, pure genius.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 19, 2010 at 17:11:13

Grassroots, we've talked in person about how there's a bit of a generation gap in the people that we work with, and we often tend to speak of apples and oranges when we talk about the poor or those on assistance.

You tend to campaign and work with older people who worked in the past and really don't want to be on ODSP or welfare. They've got legitimate reasons to be where they're at, and I understand from the people I know in the same situation that they deserve more.

For me, however, I tend to see a lot of younger people who learned from their peers or family how to navigate and cheat the system, whether that's tossing $200 from your welfare cheque in to live with six friends and spending the rest on booze and pot, or finding every way possible to claim you have a "disability".... When what you really have is/are (a) permissive parent(s) who think there's no way their 30-year-old should be working because he saw a big scary bug in the bathtub when he was six (or because he got bad marks in a class in high school, or because some aspect of life was tough and so they keep bailing them out and yelling at anyone who thinks they have to work...)

Sure, those are HUGE generalizations (I know many people who deserve to be on ODSP or the like) --- but 'those who struggle' and those on welfare or disability aren't two groups with 100% overlap.

Given that, I get a bit frustrated when you claim everyone who doesn't share your views has no insight, or no moral compass... we're often speaking about apples and oranges.

Solutions like Cooke proposes, like giving kids a chance by sending them to mixed-income schools (regardless of whether their parents deserve to be receiving money or if they're system cheaters) has apparently proven to be a good solution to some of these problems elsewhere - would you agree on that?

(edited for spelling - and to say Moylek is hilarious.)

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-05-19 16:14:44

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 18:26:00

Meredith: It is not easy to get on ODSP. I would refer you the report that the Ombudsmans office produced a couple years back and how the process is not easy and was very unfair and unrealistic, considering the one person, who was clearly disabled from birth basically was denied access to ODSP.

So your story about being afraid about a bug, seems incredible, that this person would get access. Why do I get the feeling that there may be more to this story.

I do agree that parents at times have to do tough love, I did it and well it was the hardest decision I had to make and you may pay the ultimate consequences.

I did not say the mmixed schools were a bad idea, I was trying to bring forward that if the parent cnnot afford to pay for a school trip, that it is still the child that feels the isolation because there is no guaranteed income.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 18:43:46

If we take the following statements as a starter..
"This restricted housing options for people with low incomes and high needs in neighbourhoods that were already struggling. Suburban growth pressure was not unique to Hamilton, but it had more devastating results here than in more progressive cities that avoided segregating the poor."

"Good paying jobs don't come from bailouts. They come from start-ups. And where do start-ups come from? They come from smart, creative, inspired risk takers. How do we get more of those? There are only two ways: grow more by improving our schools or import more by recruiting talented immigrants."

Poverty is a a problem that resonates with the three levels of government.This epidemic is not isolated to Hamilton, though this City has a higher rate. However, all levels of government function based on a reactionary methodology regards to the issue of poverty. Now when we address this issue it almost overwhelming. At the same time when the auto industry was crumbling such brought the attention of all governments. What is factual is the industries like the auto sector created their own mess, where as the majority of poor have inherited their situation and are in no position the leverage any position in the political arena and when they do, it seems the attention that it gets is nothing more than a burp in the scheme of everything else; much of the issues are over ridden with political phrases like, "the best place in Canada to raise a child" that has created a sad illusion.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 19:16:51

Grassroots, how much should the guaranteed annual income be?

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 20:27:21

A Smith said:
"guaranteed annual income" would do little the same result would occur as did when the minimum wage was increased. The large money holders, corporations, insurance companies will raise their cost maintaining the same returns or bettering them. There is a good possibility that a guaranteed annual income would create a false sense of security and would most-likely make things worse.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 20:50:08

If governments are truly interesting in decreasing poverty they would eliminate all taxes on any one earning less than 25 thousand annually. A simple procedure is to provide each person that qualifies with a card that could be swiped for any purchase, including this card could be presented to any employer for verification and no provincial or federal tax would be deducted at the source. At the same time if an and when an individual met the 25 thousand in income the card would become inactive at that point during that year...if they owned property they would still have to pay for all services and property taxes excluding taxes regardless of their income.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 21:24:26

Terry please run for mayor.

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By Hypo (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 21:39:35

I'd vote for Terry for Mayor as opposed to Fred the Ditherer! I prefer hypocrisy (sp?) to incompetence.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 22:26:17

Grassroots, I am really interested in knowing about your guaranteed annual income idea. Can you tell us how much this income would be? I think 30k a year would be great. What do you think?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 23:58:16

A Smith: Well based on a 44 hour work week, 30,000 per year would work out to $13.11 per hour. Is that a fair amount, well I am sure that many people or families who are living in poverty whether they are the deserving or undeserving poor would be very happy and that most likely those dollars would be spend into the individuals perspective community.

I went to the lecture by Dr Forget, The Town with no Poverty, an experiment that was done during the 1970s. What Dr Forget found was that injuries and illnesses decreased, meaning hospital visits, the diagnosis of mental health issues decreased as well. They found that many children went back to school to further their education, as many children at that time left school to go to work to help their families.

Given the feedback I heard at the forum, I am sure that many here at this blog would gain insight from hearing those voices. How can people make an informed decision about something when they have never heard the voices of those affected.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 20, 2010 at 13:47:36

One of the main drawback to the study is that it make up is a string work ethic,"Ukrainians constitute the largest single ethnic group in the City of Dauphin" mostly farmers and small industry. By enlarge this study can not be generated to other cities unless they are comparable.

"Dr. Forget has spent three years comparing the administrative health care records of Dauphin's citizens between 1974 and 1978 with those of a control group of people living in similar Manitoba communities at that time. She found that people appear to live healthier lives when they don't have to worry about poverty."

Dr. Forget fails to state what Manitoba communities that she used as a comparison. Moreover, in 1974 and 1978 the work ethic was much different during those years; and when one adds the availability to health care in all the Manitoba communities at that time one would have question the reliability of the study. She also states that, "We also looked at accidents and injuries and they also declined" while such are general terms she fails to separate whether such was from the general population or those involved in the study. Including the fact that age is neither represented...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 20, 2010 at 14:03:56

Grassroots, one question, how would the government know that people were actually working at real jobs, when in reality, these people could be sitting around playing video games at a warehouse? Smart people would simply pay employers to put them on their payroll and then kickback the money they paid in wages.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 20, 2010 at 15:48:10

A Smith, you misunderstand the guaranteed wage, I think. The government would give everyone the same $30k - you, me, grassroots, Stephen Harper, the busker who keeps getting ticketed downtown, Ken Thompson and Conrad Black. So the government wouldn't have to keep track of who is doing what. The one thing I'll give the scheme: it should take an awful lot of people off of the civil-service payroll.

Or maybe I misunderstand the tangent we're on.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 20, 2010 at 21:29:22

How I intrepret a guaranteed income, would that people would be guaranteed an income to a set level. So if was worker was earning less then the set amount, then they would somehow be top off.

It could mean that those who are on social assistance, ODSP, OAS, CPP, would receive a top up of some sort.

The people I was speaking with at the forum, those who are on some sort of social assistance, were split on a guaranteed income per se, they want an amount that would make things easier, so an example would be to have extra dollars for a class trip or pizza day for their children, or if they needed school supplies or clothing, to buy nutricious food.

I think it is important to understand that those who work for agencies and such who advocate, have a different view then those on the system. Sometimes while they on social assistance may want some extra dollars, their focus is on other things like daycare, the ability to back to school, bus passes, to be able to have their children participate in recreational events, the ability to take their children to a movie or a day out.

That is why I say it is important to actually hear the voices of those who live in poverty opposed to those who do not live in poverty but who advocate and giving feedback. Sometimes it is two different things.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 20, 2010 at 22:26:13

Donald, thank you for bringing up work ethic.

When you talk to a little boy and ask "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and he looks at you like you're crazy and says "I'm not going to be anything. I'm going to get a cheque from the government like my mom." then it hits you. And I know people that have worked in Hamilton for 20+ years and see this over and over again... generational poverty is a very hard thing to break, especially when it's reliance on welfare.

When people are raised in a culture of hard work, especially if they've come from a country where it's unthinkable not to work, there's a much stronger social incentive to work. I come from St. Catharines, where there's a huge Mennonite and Dutch culture of people who don't tend to get higher education and often have very traditional gender roles, but they work hard and are thrifty with the money they have. Here's a question - How many Mennonites have you seen on welfare? Ever? How many Dutch people? Not very many, that's for sure.

But I sure know a lot of other people in St. Catharines on welfare who know exactly how much creditors will let you not pay if you wait long enough, and who are back on welfare every year or two. To them, that's life. Work for a bit, welfare for a bit.. over and over and over. Buying any property, saving for the future, being responsible with finances is never on their radar.

If people are raised in generational poverty and generational reliance on welfare cheques, it's a whole different story than those who have a strong work ethic. If you're raised not knowing how to go to anywhere but the cheque-cashing place, or how to make anything but frozen pizza, it's a whole different story. If you don't know how to get furniture except at the rent-to-own store, it's a whole different story. And even a guaranteed income won't help dig you out of poverty.

As much as it would be nice to rely on people wanting to work, if they don't associate pride with work, if they've never learned that there's any value in labour in itself, even in how it builds character, persistence, physical strength, and if their family and friends don't value work, a guaranteed income is the single worst thing you can do for them.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 20, 2010 at 22:50:43

Grassroots >> they want an amount that would make things easier

So all your talk about those who struggle in poverty is garbage. It's not about the absolute poor, those without enough food or medicine, it's about making life easy for people.

In a just world, the Ontario government would give you just enough food and shelter to live, but the rest of the money would go here...

http://porcupinerim.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/starvation.jpg

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 20, 2010 at 22:59:07

Meredith: You have very specific views about poverty, which at times at very slanted, you view things from your eyes and not from the other side.

You make assuptions that all who are on social assistance do not know how to shop or cook, which is ridiculous stance to take.

It is very easy to paint all people with the same brush. With the rise of precarious, part time and contract work, many find themselves having to access services, and to assume that all people want to be on social assistance their whole life is very short sighted on your part.

The current system makes it hard to jump the welfare wall.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 20, 2010 at 23:32:34

A Smith: You misunderstood what I meant and that probably was not the best word to use. I was talking to one young mother and they have been slowly working on an education one course at a time, working when they can at low wage job to try and provide for her children. This person was split on guaranteed income, she was more concerned about access to daycare, transportation, to possibly have the ability to take her children out to a movie once in while, to be able to provide her children with small extras like a school trip or pizza day, to have the ability to buy fresh food, instead of relying on the food banks, to put her children into recreational events, like baseball, you get my drift.

There are lots of social agencies out there but maybe the question to ask is, how affective are they really and how much dollars are spent on programs that lead people to no where. Remember that there is a poverty industry in place, where most the dollars go and very little trickles down to the actual people it is meant to help.

If there is to be change, we have to listen to the people who live in poverty and to hear what they actually need, opposed to listening to some agency people telling the rest of community what they think people need. Does that make sense.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2010 at 13:13:20

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 21, 2010 at 14:00:56

A Smith: I thought you were interested in discussion, you bated me and I fell for it, never again I will respond to you.

You are not interested in solving problems, nor in open discussion. You do not want to hear the voices of those who live in poverty nor do you really care.

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted May 21, 2010 at 14:12:40

"The only thing that people need to remain healthy is 2500 calories of food, shelter, clothes and medical care, that's it. If people want more than the basic requirements of life, figure out a way to earn the money yourself."

That's actually so inaccurate its not funny. Not saying I necessarily agree with grassroots.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2010 at 16:46:30

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 21, 2010 at 17:28:44

Editor: while posters have disagreeing views, I feel that the language used by A Smith in his last post is completely unacceptable.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 21, 2010 at 19:04:51

We are all watching the growing environmental crisis growing in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is really a sad world we live in when we have people here in our own country, that have the audacity to blame those who are the poorest in our own communities, for policies and procedures that have been used worldwide, that have caused so much hardship, put in place by a structure that beyond human.

Those who quote scriptures from the bible, yet wants to built a society here that would mirror what is happening to people in communities across the globe they say they are advocating for.

A true hypocrit.

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted May 21, 2010 at 19:42:51

I feel that the language used by A Smith in his last post is completely unacceptable.

Solution: stop feeding him with replies.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 22, 2010 at 01:49:34

Thanks zoo keeper, I will not reply ever to this persom

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted May 22, 2010 at 10:02:24

There's a fairly strong argument to be made that relative poverty is quite damaging to a society (The Spirit Level - Wilkinson & Pickett), both in terms of health and happiness. So it seems obvious that shrinking the income disparity gap would result in a better society. But I can't bring myself to agree to this leveling, even though I would benefit as much as anyone.

My understanding of guaranteed income is that everyone is entitled - that it would function like OAS or GIS, not as a top-up. But since it's only theoretical, I suppose it could be whatever we want it to be. I don't have an absolute opposition to a guaranteed income, theoretically, but as soon as I start to think of it in practice, I'm right there with Meredith.

Anyway, Grassroots, too bad about A. Smith. I was going to respond based on the current OAS/GIS levels, which leaves a single qualifier with approx. $14,000 per year not including other benefits (drug subsidies, etc.), but I wanted to hear your number. I agree with you that someone can live comfortably on $30,000 a year. Quite comfortably. So I would disagree with you strongly that the GIS should be that high. There has to be an incentive for someone to work and contribute to society. But then you see it as a top-up, so perhaps our numbers would work out the same by combining part-time work and supplement.

And so what would we have accomplished with $14,000 per person GIS? How long before the cost of living increases, before rents go up, before fewer kids finish high school because six of them can band together, throw in their $300.00 bucks in rent for their room in a house, and slide quickly down into human decay with drugs and alcohol? This happens now to some extent, but since welfare doesn't pay $14,000 per year, it's not much of a problem.

Still leaves the problem of what to do with the problem of poverty unsolved...but if I had the answer to that, I'd be on a speaker's circuit myself.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 22, 2010 at 11:44:21

D Knox: I did not come up with the 30,000 amount, that was someone elses idea.

The old Mothers Allowance was set up that a single mther could work at a minimum wage job full time and then they would top off, the current welfare system penalizes you when you work, half of your earnings are deducted. This can cause hardship if a person is working part time or precarious work because say you earn 500.00 in May, that is deducted from the June cheque and if you had no hours in June, you are left really struggling. So in May as a single mother you would get say $950 plus the $500 in earnings, then in June get $700.

As far as six young people living together as room mates, that would affect the amount that they get, as the basic shelter amount would be lowered. So if the rent was 600 per month, each person would get 100 toward the rent. The amount the person would receive from welfare would be just over 300 dollars for the month.

I get frustrated by people who make comments, who have never had to access social services saying stuff that is not true.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-05-22 10:45:17

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 22, 2010 at 13:11:35

while posters have disagreeing views, I feel that the language used by A Smith in his last post is completely unacceptable.

Absolutely. My experience trying to have a discussion with A Smith is that he (I'm pretty sure A Smith is male) has no interest whatsoever in an honest debate. What he wants is what all trolls want: to lead you as far as possible under the bridge so you get lost there. Best to ignore him.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2010 at 14:31:04

Please read my post: Posted May 19, 2010 19:50:08
In addition I would add a base income of 10 thousand per year as bonus to all who went out and founds a job...with a decrees of 5 thousand when the attained and income of 30 thousand followed by a complete end when they attained and income of 35 thousand.
Moreover the adherence to my previous post on no taxes until they attained the 25 thousand level of income. Including removing the tax on unemployment ins.

For those unequipped to work all welfare and Provincial and federal government support would be merged into one. For those capable of part time work no taxes would be deducted until they had reached the 30 thousand.

For all those who could not meet the criteria of work the bench mark would be set at 30 thousand...that would include monies from all sources, private insurances, etc..etc..

I am sure this could use many touch-ups...This is a general suggestion, as there will always be issues that I have omitted, it's only a general outline..

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted May 22, 2010 at 18:29:02

The most immediate thing that could be done to work towards poverty is to raise the personal exemption to the poverty line and provide a negative income tax at the same rate as the lowest tax bracket.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 22, 2010 at 22:18:35

I'm well aware that I often present one side of the coin.

I do that deliberately, because I think people like Grassroots do a wonderful job at presenting the other side of that same coin.

Make no mistake, I see both sides.

  • I know people whose businesses have collapsed, and they can't receive welfare or they'll be forced to sell their house.
  • I also know people who are social workers with young men and women who have been mistreated, and are now abusing the system.
  • I know young men and women personally from Toronto and other cities as friends who receive and spend enormous amounts of assistance money because their parents are so messed up.
  • I know people on disability for a variety of reasons. Most are very legitimate and I wouldn't wish them anything but better services and better conditions.
  • I have people in my family who have needed to legitimately rely on EI, and welfare even for a short time.
  • I also have people in my family who abuse the welfare system terribly and find sneaky ways to work under-the-table too.

Please don't make the mistake of assuming that I don't know both sides, or that I'm not sympathetic to those truly in need.

But also, please don't get frustrated when I present the fact that there are people who misuse the system.

Because my husband and myself get laughed at by members of our family who think we're stupid for working "so hard" (e.g. at all). And we have friends who think our priorities are all wrong because we decided school was important, so would to take on debt to go to school. They also laugh at us for being committed to paying that debt off. To them, higher education or work is stupid when "the system" will take care of you at a similar standard of living. They think we're even dumber for not having big-screen flat-panel TVs or cars or similar things on credit. These are people who have never made more than minimum wage, and neither have most people they know. They don't have the motivation of "a better life" from working hard or education because they've never seen it. (Or, they've always been able to rely on family or others for that "better life" and have no reason to work harder).

Just like it does for others on this forum, this hits home very personally for me. And I don't particularly appreciate hearing that I'm heartless or uncaring... when the reality is we're trying to be a good example and show people in our families, and our friends, who are misusing the system a different way.

We're trying to show them that there's value in working hard, there's value in being a person of one's word, there's value in fighting really hard to get an education, there's value to paying off your debts, there's value in being self-sufficient and not depending on people to bail you out of your self-caused problems.

It's still a very real battle for my husband and myself, and it's tough. It was tough when we both had to go from working full-time in our fields to both going back to school. It was tough when we moved to Hamilton and couldn't make our bills and worked at anything. (It's almost three years later now. I did factory temp work this month, I'm starting a new administrative temp job on Tuesday. I'll still do anything I need to do).

The last thing I am is unsympathetic or uncaring... but I also know how tempting the "easy path" of welfare and giving up is. And I know that's not the right path to take. So while I may agree that the deserving need more money, I'm completely opposed to giving those who misuse the system any more incentive to do so.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-05-22 21:33:04

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted May 22, 2010 at 22:23:15

Al: I understand and like the idea of raising the personal exemption rate. I don't understand the negative income tax idea. Care to elaborate? Donald: I think part of the appeal of the guaranteed income supplement is to get rid of the cost of administering the system (which creates other employment issues, but that's a tangent). Yours sounds a little complicated and suggests a complex administration process, including qualifying and exemptions etc. And is the bonus for finding a job in addition to the money that you earn from working? Isn't the earned income enough of a bonus? I confess that I haven't really studied the GIS idea, and how different people imagine it working, but the few people I've spoken to who support the idea mention both the elimination of a complex and expensive administration system and the assumption that few people will abuse it - which suggests to me that the rates they are imagining will be fairly low.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 23, 2010 at 00:35:04

Temp work eh, these places deprive workers their rights all the time, so be careful. There are numerous stories out there that workers have been injuried on temp assignments, then get denied access to WSIB. You can be terminated for asking a question about health and safety, as well. Still lots of grey area out there.

Good thing people like myself had the balls to go to Queens Park and speak about the numerous issue for workers in the precarious job market. Thus the passing of Bill 139, Temp Worker Bill.

Here are a few quick facts for your information:

http://www.workersactioncentre.org/campa...

Just a question but do you think you will get your stat holdiay pay, as if you had earnings in the four previous weeks, of the holdiay, you are entitled to something, or will you just not check it out or file a complaint, so that the abuses can go on, since the system is based on complaints.

Calculation for stat holiday pay:

earnings in the last four weeks

Say you earned 350.00.

then 350 divided by 20 = $17.50 for the Victoria Day Holiday. It is not much but I am sure that you could use this money, so stand up for your rights.

If you do not get your stat holiday pay and they threaten you with reprisal or will not give you anymore job assignments, for trying to enforce your rights, then maybe you will seek out my group.

I do see things, as week or so ago, I was downtown waiting for someone when a person who was blasted was trying to talk to people. Not that this person was threatening or anything, just annoying, as you could not even understand what they were saying.

I felt very sorry for this person, in a sense, that here is a human being, who hurts in someway, deep inside. Will this person seek out help, well maybe, but then again maybe not. How do we help these people, I do not know, they have to want to want help, so there is no easy answers.

But there are success stories, people can change:

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/05...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 23, 2010 at 07:45:01

Wow, Meredith. I can't imagine why someone would downvote you for that awesome post.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 26, 2010 at 10:17:54

We're trying to show them that there's value in working hard, there's value in being a person of one's word, there's value in fighting really hard to get an education, there's value to paying off your debts, there's value in being self-sufficient and not depending on people to bail you out of your self-caused problems. - Meredith

This is difficult when the society we live in generally works against you in this regard. A society where the highest earners are generally not the hardest workers, where a general BA is no guarantee of a job and career colleges are exploiting the unemployed, where governments, banks and businesses are poor examples of fiscal responsibility and billion dollar banks and underperforming corporate dinosaurs can belly up to the bar for bailouts and relief from their self-caused problems.

I do not condone it but I am also not surprised when a certain percentage of the population just say "F&#% it", opt out of being active contributing members of society and spend the majority of their time searching for the easy way.

The "path of least resistance" is a common theme in physics after all.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-05-26 09:18:59

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 26, 2010 at 17:56:09

I'm of the opinion that human nature doesn't change much. Whatever the culture, whatever the time period, you have a lot of inequality, a lot of unfairness, and a lot of crap to deal with.

Your options are still the same. Either leave your life up to others and the expectations around you, sink to the level of what's "comfortable".... Or, you choose to be greater and you work until you accomplish something.

Now, if you start in a rich, well-educated family, what's "comfortable" might look a lot different - maybe you "only" get a B.A. and slip through family connections into a teaching job (which is still work!)... whereas what's "comfortable" in a less educated family may be different and not involve working at all.

Sure, that's not fair, but I do know this... any good outcome in life involves work, especially for not-so-rich folks like me - and my family and most of my friends - and a lot of poor people.

Which example do I want to be? Which example do I want to set? The choice is pretty easy for me. Especially because I think work is good for a whole host of other things besides a paycheque. You learn responsibility, interaction, skill, time management, and a lot more just by getting out of bed, going to work, and stacking boxes or typing form letters or whatever your job happens to be. If I want to develop better character and life skills, and I want those around me to develop those traits too (yeah, I'm making a value judgment - sue me.), work is an essential part of that.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-05-26 17:02:44

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted May 26, 2010 at 20:47:29

There's plenty wrong with our system, as you point out Kiely. I think it's shocking to see what athletes who chase different shaped balls in different directions on different shaped fields can earn, compared to a nurse, whose work is much more valuable socially. But based on what we pay them, I think I have to say that our culture really values ball-chasers (and throwers I suppose too and also maybe kickers?).

I'm not sure that I would agree that our highest wage earners are generally not our hardest working. Not doubt that's true if you are talking brute strength or intensity of physical labour, but if you calculate hours of work and intellectual effort I think your argument doesn't hold up.

True, some people who don't work very hard make a lot of money. Some people who work very hard don't make much money. Some people have university degrees but not a useful education. And regardless of how society is set up, some people will still be very successful, and others will be very failureful.

But I'm still with Meredith: any good outcome in life involves work... even chasing balls.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 27, 2010 at 09:29:56

I'm not sure that I would agree that our highest wage earners are generally not our hardest working. Not doubt that's true if you are talking brute strength or intensity of physical labour, but if you calculate hours of work and intellectual effort I think your argument doesn't hold up. - d.knox

Physical labour is mainly what I was referring to... but I'm also not one who thinks intellectual effort is "hard" work. Digging ditches is "hard" work, underground mining is "hard" work, bussing tables for minimum wage is "hard" work. Being an investment banker, doctor or lawyer requires a lot of work but it is in a completely different category. Intellectual effort will actually benefit you over time. Physically demanding manual labour will eventually take its toll on your body and mind.

As for "hours of work" I don't know what you're talking about there. I've never seen any stats proving the rich work longer hours than the middle class or poor. Frankly in this day and age of people in lower income brackets often needing multiple jobs to make a living wage, I think that statement is dubious.

If you don't think that viewpoint holds up, that's fine.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2010 at 10:06:01

Kiely writes ...

As for "hours of work" I don't know what you're talking about there. I've never seen any stats proving the rich work longer hours than the middle class or poor. Frankly in this day and age of people in lower income brackets often needing multiple jobs to make a living wage, I think that statement is dubious.

In my somewhat limited experience, I have observed that people who become very comfortably off or moderately rich (I don't know anyone really rich) have worked long hours and put in exceptional effort and taken career risks, be they real-estate agents, contractors, physicians, academics or writers. In most cases, there was some combination of years of expensive training, long stretches of 60- to 80-hour work weeks, risky commitments, and many tough decisions. Not that those are guarantees of riches, nor that riches cannot be got other ways, but they do appear to go hand in hand.

Less effort, fewer early sacrifices, fewer hours and less ambition and those rich-ish acquaintances would merely be comfortably off ... like most of us. Let's face it, choosing to pick up a 40-hour-a-week job of back-breaking labour and/or mind-numbing boredom is easier. No matter that situation thirty years after that decision seems quite the contrary when one person aches from another day of toil while the other takes the afternoon off for golf.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-05-27 09:07:36

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 27, 2010 at 11:56:33

Let's face it, choosing to pick up a 40-hour-a-week job of back-breaking labour and/or mind-numbing boredom is easier. - Kenneth

Sure Ken, it may be some people's "easy" choice, but it is also some people's only choice.

I admit what is "hard" work is perhaps a bit of an argument of semantics.

Interesting article in the Globe.

Key point in the article… housing people is cheaper than paying for the costs to society caused by homelessness.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2010 at 12:34:24

Kiely writes...

Sure Ken, it may be some people's "easy" choice, but it is also some people's only choice.

Agreed. And I should add, too, that I meant no slight to people doing back-breaking or mind-numbing work (I've done both). Much useful and necessary work in this world is unglamorous and there should be no shame in doing it for a decent wage. And I believe that we do society and many our fellow citizens a great disservice by promoting engaging, creative, clean-fingered, white-collar office work as the "normal" goal of our education system ... as if other outcomes are somehow failures (or so it seems to me ofttimes).

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-05-27 11:41:14

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 27, 2010 at 13:12:32

And I believe that we do society and many our fellow citizens a great disservice by promoting engaging, creative, clean-fingered, white-collar office work as the "normal" goal of our education system ... as if other outcomes are somehow failures - Kenneth

Great comment Ken!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 27, 2010 at 14:05:40

Amen!

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