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Guest Post: The Uncomfortable Reality by Ben Henderson, Chair of the Stewardship Roundtable Committee of EndPovertyEdmonton

Posted: Dec 12, 2022

Ben Henderson
Chair of the Stewardship Roundtable Committee of EndPovertyEdmonton

There is a societal assumption made about those living in poverty that they are unemployed. In reality, in Edmonton, the large majority of those living below the poverty line are working often multiple jobs. This is particularly hard on families where both parents have to work more than one low paying job in order for the family to survive. Quite apart from the hardships this creates, the effect on the next generation can also guarantee that the conditions of poverty are passed on for years to come.

As it was once pointed out to me, this can be addressed in two ways. Either we can ensure that people have a decent income, or we can support them on the expense side of the equation through things like affordable housing and food banks. Our problem is that we do neither.

This situation is being made worse by the inflationary pressures that we are currently experiencing. There is an irony that is being underlined by our current inflationary times. It ends up pitting the legitimate expectation of people to be paid a living wage against societies desire to keep costs low. For those in jobs that pay less than a living wage the pressures of inflation make that challenge even greater.

Yet any expectation of an increase in wages leads to an increase in costs for everyone. The uncomfortable reality, that this has only served to surface further, is that the willingness of some to work for less money than can be survived on is subsidizing the standard of living enjoyed by the rest of us. We are again back to the same two choices, we can either make it possible to live on less money by subsidizing the costs of things like food and housing, or we can pay people properly. If we choose the former, make no mistake, the haves are the ones whose lifestyle is truly being subsidized. And once again, if we do neither then the costs to generations down the road will be even greater as we pass on the social tensions that poverty inevitably creates.

What is particularly interesting about our current, post Covid, situation is that there is now an apparent shortage of people who are prepared to take on those lower paying jobs. In certain sectors some of the ability of our economy to find people to work cheaply enough to continue to subsidize our lifestyle is being eroded. It would be nice to think that this is the situation in all sectors but I suspect for many there is still no choice but to work for way less than a living wage. But maybe this disruption also creates a window to address this imbalance more systemically. If we can take this challenge and use it as a way to ensure that all those who are working can realistically expect to support themselves and their families, without working multiple jobs, then our society will be much the healthier for it and many of the pressures that continue to pass on the conditions of social disorder can be avoided.


These are difficult choices. But unless we are prepared to recognize that our ability to live the lives we lead is made possible by hard working people who are still living in poverty, we will be avoiding the uncomfortable reality of the dilemma. And, given the hidden societal costs of poverty (policing, healthcare, disorder) basing our economy on a structure that sustains all, seems like not just the fairest choice but ultimately the most efficient one.

EndPovertyEdmonton would like to thank Ben Henderson, Chair of the Stewardship Roundtable Committee of EndPovertyEdmonton for writing this month’s guest post.

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