Canada’s unemployment rate is the envy of Canada.
In June, Statistics Canada reported the province had an unemployment rate of 3.3 per cent. This is not a new development. The province has more or less sustained the lowest unemployment rate in the country pretty much since the recession of 2008.
Given this information, one might think the province would be at least starting to turn the corner on having one of the highest crime rates in the country.
The latest crime stats don’t back that up, however. While crime rates and crime severity indexes are on a general downward trend, Saskatchewan remains high relative to other jurisdictions.
What is responsible for this apparent disconnect between prosperity and crime?
The connection between poverty and crime is well established. There have been numerous studies, but perhaps most telling of all is the simple fact that while less than 10 per cent of Canadians have below poverty line incomes, nearly 100 per cent of prison populations come from the 10 per cent. More than 70 per cent of inmates have not finished high school.
In Saskatchewan, the boom in jobs is actually a double-edged sword for low-income people. The cost of living has soared well above the base rate of inflation.
It’s even worse for children. Fully 16 per cent of children in Saskatchewan live in poverty, second only to B.C. For First Nations children it is a shocking and shameful 64 per cent, the highest in the country.
The benefits of the boom are not equitably distributed.
Even without our current affluence, how is this acceptable?
The counter-argument is that Canada is a free country where every person has equal opportunity to rise above poverty. Frankly, this is a load of bull. Poverty is a vicious cycle. While everybody knows some individual who has beaten the odds, the majority face an overwhelming disadvantage to break the cycle.
Obviously, you can’t legislate compassion, but even from a pragmatic point of view, it is in everyone’s best interest to eliminate poverty.
Just one example is a study by the Ontario Association of Food Banks that estimated the social costs of poverty include $7.6 billion in extra healthcare, $1 to $2 billion in increased crime and $35 to $42 billion in lost productivity.
In a 2011 op-ed piece for the Toronto Star that ran with the headline “Tough on poverty, tough on crime,” Senator Hugh Segal (a Conservative, no less) argued that a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) for all Canadians at a cost of $12,000 to $20,000 per low-income person, could save taxpayers $127,000 per federal prisoner per year.
He quoted Senator David Croll, whose 1971 Senate committee on poverty recommended a Canadian GAI.
“Poverty is the great social issue of our time,” Croll wrote. “The poor do not choose poverty. It is at once their affliction and our national shame. No nation can achieve true greatness if it lacks the courage and determination to undertake the surgery necessary to remove the cancer of poverty from its body politic.”
That was 42 years ago and no government has had the courage and determination as of yet.
There are people in Saskatchewan attempting to do something about it, though. In 2010 a coalition of individuals and organizations founded Poverty Free Saskatchewan (PFS) and published a report entitled “Let’s Do Something About Poverty.”
They followed that up in 2011 and 2012 with consultations in seven Saskatchewan communities.
Through its work PFS has developed a comprehensive strategy which includes affordable housing, income security, education, community participation, access to services and health initiatives.
Saskatchewan people are very proud and like to think this is the greatest place in the world to live. It actually is for some of us, but if we are truly serious about that claim, it must be inclusive of all residents.
It is time to get tough on poverty.