Wednesday, March 22, 2006

More on Poverty

Once again yesterday I was reminded that the "solutions" to poverty are much more complex than the uninformed person (i.e. me) can comprehend.

In ECON 101 (Intro to Microeconomics), we learn the pitfalls of minimum wage. Basically, if the minimum wage is set at a "binding" level (i.e. above the "market" level), then unemployment results because more people are willing to work at that wage than employers are willing to employ.

And, while I will still argue that minimum wage is irrelevant in Alberta (but don't pick a bone on that one with me, because it would be a mute point) since you can earn significantly over minimum wage even working at McDonalds (and let's be serious, would Mickey D's ever not hire someone?), there are still people working at levels that they can't afford to live on.

For example, I heard that if "affordable housing" is defined as that which costs about 30% of one's income, then one would have to work at $12/hour, 40 hours/week in order to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Edmonton.

So what do you do? I would strongly advocate AGAINST at $12/hour minimum wage, because there are many people working part-time (i.e. high school students, spouses) or who are not the sole wage-earners in their families. But, what do you do about the people who don't work in jobs that pay $12 an hour? That's where affordable housing initiatives come in... but are those a good long-term solution?

Furthermore, I was a strong supporter of the $400 prosperity rebate issued to me by the government. It paid for my Reading Week vacation. But, for about half of what it cost to issue those cheques, the government could have set up a fund that supported the school lunch programs across the province in perpetuity. (Perpetuity, for all those of you who don't have to suffer through Finance 301, means that the interest each year would support the program, forever.) Well, I would be selfish to take that $400 when it could mean hungry kids would get lunch... forever.

BUT... I'm sure there are many, many charities around the province who could think of something to do with a fund in perpetuity. Not to mention university students who would whole-heartedly support a scholarship fund and health care supporters who would also support a fund.

So, the answers to that aren't easy either.

And, finally... the last thing that has me turned upside-down. I always thought a booming economy was a good thing. And, it probably is for an educated, brilliant soon-to-be university graduate like me. And I always just assumed that since we like booming economies, they are good for everyone.

But, I've been learning that the gap between rich and poor is increasingly widening. Units that were originally being set aside to be turned into affordable housing are being sold off as condos. And... well, to be honest, I don't know why the gap widens. I thought booming economy meant lots of jobs, meaning less unemployment and people having more money. But there are those who fall between the cracks.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts. I used to have all the solutions to the world's problems figured out, but not so much anymore. To quote Switchfoot, "the more we learn, the less we know." It's so true.

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