Today me and my wife were discussing worse case scenarios on where we might have to live after Christmas 2022 for our family of five or rather six if you count the seven-pound tabby cat and our two-year-old black lab. In our part of the world we are just another story of what I’ve candidly called “Sell-evictions” in our household. Our lord of the land and home owner we rent from wishes to take advantage of the housing price boom that has formed since the pandemic. From the start of the pandemic we’ve seen the real estate bubble form here in Nova Scotia with semi-detached homes once sold to the tune of 130,000 Canadian dollars to just recently the semi-detached home across the street from our rental that had sold for 315,000.00 Canadian dollars roughly two weeks ago. Since the start of this bubble before the summer of 2020 our family has seen a little under half of the homes in the neighborhood crescent we rent in up and down for sale. Social distant queues of ten to fifteen people for showings was a shocking tell of this tale in our usually very quiet crescent.
Housing supply and price isn’t the only issue of the day here, Rental prices have doubled in this province from city center to rural areas increasing the unaffordability and housing security crisis not only for those not able to afford to buy but those of us that rent as well. One would assume that these two issues go hand in hand but with no data to support extreme measures in increased property tax rates from last year it all settles to the top of a consumer gouge in the guise of pandemic business woes. This was in part covered by CBC news in the beginning of May with talking points on some of the major players for low-income housing in Nova Scotia. You can read the full article here: https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/apartments-halifax . There’s also an interesting local article on what I’ve spoken on above and will below here : https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/real-estate-boom-evictions-tenants-landlords-nova-scotia-1.5993233
Our situation here has been driven by our local and provincial governments ability, or luck others might say in handling the pandemic thus far. We’ve seen the least amount of cases per capita of Covid-19 and thus have not had as many “lock-downs” or “circuit breakers” as various states and provinces are calling it. Coupled with the relatively median low housing costs that our province has always enjoyed has brought new people from provinces not so lucky. They are purchasing not only homes but income properties alike in droves. Nova Scotia in previous years was labeled the “have-not” province and lacked any real industry driver .While respectively this province had strong employment in the way of Tourism, Lobster fishing , Christmas tree arboriculture , Gypsum mining or just being deployed within Department of Defence to CFB Stadacona , Halifax, CFB Greenwood or CFB Shearwater with at least 40% of Canada’s military assets, alas this can’t be done by every one of us here and thus employment rates were not always optimistic in this province, This pushed the majority of the Maritime youth to Alberta and western Canada to pursuit their ideas of a Maritime fortune in the Athabasca oil sands of Norther Alberta, Diamond and Nickle mines of Manitoba and more for well over a decade starting in 2004. I should know I was one of them and worked for Chrysler Canada until the wildfire in 2015-2016 which devastated the Northern Communities of Alberta. These people are coming back home to a different province if they already have not. Returning to the pandemic, a majority of employed adults say the responsibilities of their job can be mostly done from home (55% in average in the U.S. and Canada by latest statistical data) thus making my part of the world rather attractive as of late.
I had at one-point last year asked myself the usual things when faced with tough times ahead, the general “why us” questions passed my mind, But I truly wanted to know if this was isolated to here or a global issue? Was there a real tipping point passed for the lower classes in the western world. I found no revelation ; it’s what we already know now and some of you may be experiencing it first-hand that globally there is a severe gap between the classes as we knew and I don’t believe Covid-19 was to blame but rather the spark.
It has been said that those in infectious disease epidemiology recognize that in the last 25 years, we've had seven or so of these events. This is not the first one and it's a repetitive issue: they see the emergence of a virus that causes an epidemic in man, they try to understand it, mitigate it, and do the best that they can to put out the fire and that only now monitoring for novel viruses that might emerge will be a priority among the political spectrums. Regardless of your school of thought whether it be the pandemic was a surprise or a conspiracy theory of sorts it can be said that for the majority of western society it caught us completely unprepared and off guard and we are only seeing the being of suffrage by the least fortunate.
In October of 2020 the World Bank advised that global extreme poverty is expected to rise in 2020 though 2021 for the first time in over 20 years as the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic compounds the forces of conflict and climate change, which were already slowing poverty reduction progress, further that eight out of 10 ‘new poor’ will be in middle-income countries and that prospect of less inclusive growth is a clear reversal from previous trends. Shared prosperity increased in 74 of 91 economies for which data was available in the period 2012-2017, meaning that growth was inclusive and the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of the population grew. In 53 of those countries, growth benefited the poorest more than the entire population. Average global shared prosperity (growth in the incomes of the bottom 40 percent) was 2.3 percent for 2012-2017. The future as it stands suggests that without quick and immediate policy actions, the COVID-19 crisis may trigger cycles of higher income inequality, lower social mobility among the vulnerable, and lower resilience to future shocks. The report calls for collective action to ensure years of progress in poverty reduction are not erased, and that efforts to confront poverty caused by COVID-19 also face threats that disproportionally impact the world’s poor at the same time, particularly conflict and climate change.
For our friends south of the border, On March 2nd 2021 Human Rights Watch organization said the United States government has made little progress in stemming the rise in poverty and inequality during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government should take urgent action to address the rights of millions of people suffering the compounded economic and social impacts of the pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic, 74.7 million Americans have lost work, with the majority of jobs lost in industries that pay below average wages. Many of those who lost work and income are running out of money and savings. In January, some 24 million adults reported experiencing hunger and more than six million said they fear being evicted or foreclosed on in the next two months due to their inability to make housing payments. By contrast, higher-income people have been relatively unscathed economically. Despite the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression, the collective wealth of the US’ 651 billionaires have jumped by over $1 trillion since the beginning of the pandemic, a 36 percent leap. Recent Census Bureau data this year shows how households with different incomes are coping with the pandemic and that low-income households are disproportionally struggling for their social and economic rights to be met. Among households with incomes below $35,000, 47 percent of adult’s report being behind on housing payments, and 25 percent say they struggle to put food on the table. Thirty-two percent of low-income adults said they had felt depressed in the previous seven days.
Continuing from the January report based on the census data, more than one out of 10 adults lived in a home where there was sometimes or often not enough food to eat in the previous week. Food insecurity was particularly high among households that had lost employment during the pandemic. Three out of four food-insecure households have experienced job loss since the pandemic began and 58 percent did not have work at the time of the survey. More than half of adults in food-insecure homes have children living with them. Nearly two-thirds of food-insecure families reported that in the previous seven days it was “sometimes” or “often” true that their “children were not eating enough because we just couldn’t afford enough food.”
For us here in Canada heading into the Covid-19 pandemic, the poverty rate in Canada was declining and income inequality was falling too. Rumblings via the internet are reporting that early released findings by statistics Canada are going to advise in Tuesday May 25th’s report that government support measures largely mitigated declines in employment and earnings. It remains to be seen just how the pandemic has impacted poverty in Canada. Previous data has shown that “middle” and “low” class families along with Seniors and single parent families struggled the most last year.
Food insecurity has a similar situation in Canada, before the pandemic, an estimated 4.5 million Canadians experienced food insecurity, which the non-profit defines as inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints.
In the first two months of the global outbreak, Community Food Centres Canada said that number had grown by 39 per cent, meaning food insecurity affected one in seven people, particularly those in low-income situations. Further many of the Charities and non-profits that would help bridge the gap in food security issues for low income families are struggling to stay afloat during and after the first wave of the pandemic. Lower income people weren't among those stocking up on groceries and medications when these lockdowns hit, as doing that takes resources most simply don't and didn’t have.
The mid-lower to lower classes are still functioning hand to mouth as they did before the pandemic, except now the western world is a hot mess of rising food prices, rental housing insecurity and declining mental health, issues which impacted impoverished people disproportionately when society was ostensibly running like it's supposed to.
Covid-19 was the spark….
The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on low-income people underscores the urgency of addressing the precarious financial situation that low-wage workers faced even before the pandemic however I personally believe our fragile system was broken well before the pandemic. This was hailed from respected thinkers from Noam Chomsky to conspiracy literatures like the late Michael Rupert. Policy makers in the U.S. believe that raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour may raise it to a level of a “livable wage”, Unfortunately, because the government in both U.S. and Canada does not mandate a living wage, employers are slow to be made aware of and adopt a living wage. Further the ideal has been touted as being effective for combatting poverty and addressing wage inequality… perhaps.
In Canada the idea of Universal Basic Income has been floated, like our friends in Scandinavian countries. The motion put forward by the National Democratic Party (NDP) in the Canadian House of Commons, M-46, called on Ottawa to work with provinces, territories and Indigenous communities to deliver a minimum income for all adult Canadian. Time will tell if such a system is adopted however given government track records in Canada to get the ball rolling, if it does become material it will be too late. Critics say a UBI may not be the best way to reduce poverty, because it could mean less targeted supports for historically marginalized groups. They say the country should look at bolstering existing programs instead. Others say that it would incur extensive tax rate hikes much as I mentioned like our friends in Scandinavian countries currently pay.
Both governments herald the various stimulus packages as saving the day, I would say rather from immediate complete collapse to a slow burn. Various critics in both the U.S. and Canada have said that simply offering low income people the same funding as before or even the little extra that might be gained through these stimulus programs but may not be enough, and will soon end in Canada in the fall of this year. The plethora of information published, uploaded, written on the future economic outlook via hundreds of pages of internal reports from top Wall Street banks and dozens of columns from the world’s leading economists on stimulus-driven inflation is staggering to say the least. While some say that worries about an inflation shock are way overdone, particularly given the scale and severity of the damage wrought by the pandemic, it is transparent in the same materials that in North America and some parts of the “western world”, Will be Paying for Coronavirus Stimulus by Printing Money. We only need to take stock of history and look to the Song Dynasty and China.
Businesses will never go back to succeeding based on business models pre-COVID. Now, there is a permanent shift in business strategy. While big retail brands changed a decade of innovation in just 90 days during 2020, many smaller businesses were wiped out completely along with it those impacts to the owners and employees of such businesses and aiding in the creation of an economic domino effect and Nearly all of the small leisure, hospitality and retail businesses in the U.S. and Canada that remain closed because of the pandemic will never reopen.
The current outlooks grim to say the least, there are several systemic issues, including a “frayed social-safety net,” the rising cost of living, and an abundance of precarious, poorly paid jobs in both countries that were forbearing the pandemic that allowed us to reach this point. There will be expected and usual “too little, too late” policies and actions given by those in political power here in the western world, however if we listen closely one might hear the third world laughing at us. It brings to mind the popular internet meme “first time” with actor James Franco shown above (a clip from the “Ballad of Buster Scruggs” a great collection of stories in a wild west setting). The western world as we’ve known it is soon for a reality check with cases of food and housing insecurity on the constant rise and the real situation now of millions of people going hungry or are on the brink of losing their home or seeing their utilities shut off in some of the world’s wealthiest countries. It’s a clear indictment of a failed safety net and the urgent need to address people’s rights to food and housing.
Poverty data is typically drawn from household surveys, and for obvious reasons it is nigh impossible to conduct proper surveys under current conditions in many countries. But we do know that the strongest driver of poverty is economic growth and for this indicator there is no technological or financial reason to accept the reversals in global poverty with COVID-19 as the catalyst. The damage is due to a lack of political will and international leadership on the issue and currently there is no infrastructure to support this level of instability and level of need.
If the powers at be want to address the economic insecurity and inequality that the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated, they need to make ensuring economic and social rights for all a priority, this means building a universal and strong social protection system and investing in public services, notably education, health care, housing, and an adequate standard of living.
The pandemic taught those who were watching that impoverished people are more likely to work low-wage jobs without benefits; they're also more likely to work in retail or service, which meant over the past year and a half either risking exposure to a potentially deadly virus or being one of millions who were laid off from their employment and have seen very little in the sense of rehiring due to the second and third waves. This group of people are less likely to get tested early, to have health coverage for those in the U.S., to be allowed to work from home, to get paid leave and to work or study from a video-streaming connection. By contrast, wealthier people are apt to have jobs where they can work from home, receive more employment insurance, and are more likely to have savings, assets or credit to fall back on.
No matter how you slice it, the pandemic did set off the faults in our systems and adversely and disproportionately impacted the working poor and economically disadvantaged people.
The once hidden scourge of homelessness or insecure housing will be more at the forefront in the coming months with runs the gamut of youth “couch-surfing,” to people who can’t afford household fixes or upgrades that would allow them to live comfortably. We’ll be sure to see more living in tents, sleeping rough in the woods and sleeping in cars. The western world is used to seeing single individuals in these situations and has ignored them, what will happen when we see more and more families do this? Will UNICEF make donation drives and commercials about us when we are starving?
With respects to the Preparedness Project one of part of the mission is not only to be prepared for Ecological/Environmental crisis but the failing security of our financial system. I believe this goes hand in hand, we cannot ask people assist in combating climate change when there is no food on the table.
With uncertain times comes uncertain thinking and some might be waiting for that “Great Reset”, Market crash or an apocalyptical “Mad Max” scenario. While the global markets may have some turmoil ahead we’ll leave that subject for another blog, Anyways I have too much dad fluff to look good in that “Road warrior” leather jacket. In the mean time we’ll take the eleven degrees Celsius, warm sun and the gentle breeze and the over active bird season here today, a barbeque and some play with bubbles for the kids while we can enjoy our backyard green-space.
Above all else, we need to take care of each other right now — everyone, all of us. Regardless of our class — of our income, our credit ratings, our social status — every single person in our community deserves to be safe, healthy, warm and fed, not only during these rough times but for the next few years.
- S.M. Jenkins
If you are or know someone in need of Mental Health services or Food support please follow the links below that apply to you:
U.K. & SCOTLAND
EIRE / Ireland