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Radio pieces on poverty and social development

I’m not sure if it’s my confirmation bias, but it certainly seems that US media are talking more and more about poverty, inequality, and social stratification. Over the last few weeks, I’ve come across the following pieces (they’re great to listen to while doing the dishes!).

On Point from WBUR Boston, interviewed Richard Florida on September 26, 2013. He spoke about a recent article he wrote, at the Atlantic. It’s a nuanced argument. He finds that the post-crash US growth model is working, but that high inequality threatens the sustainability. In the interview at minute 32:00, he recognizes that his previous arguments about clustering (advanced in his work on the creative class) were misguided. Richard Florida is the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s School of Management.

This American Life from PRI did a piece on unconditional cash transfers in developing African countries over the summer. The piece, explains what UCTs are, why they might work, and why charities (in this case, they interviewed someone from Heifer International) by and large are against them. It’s a great, thought-provoking, and complicated discussion. A few weeks ago, an economist from the World Bank came to McGill to discuss findings that show that conditional cash transfers are related to better outcomes for families than unconditional cash transfers.

Planet Money from NPR also has been delving into the issue of poverty with episodes (they’re short!) on the trouble with the US poverty line and welfare. The poverty line episode is a great introduction to why poverty has been measured the way it has in the US and exactly why this methodology is often divorced from current phenomena that better describes deprivation and hardship.

Macro social work media resources

ACOSA has distributed a list of Media Resources for Macro Social Work Practice. 

Also Here

Looks like a great list. I certainly want to watch:

The Garden
Made in L.A.
The Price of Renewal
A Village Called Versailles

With a link to the classic Holding Ground: The rebirth of Dudley Street.

Please comment if you’ve seen any of the movies.


World maps with visuals


See #12

Household debt in Canada

In class last week we discussed household debt and it’s influence on economic well-being in Canada. There is evidence that the debt levels of Canadians is too high. Below I show two graphs that provide evidence of the rising debt in Canada.

First, is a graph from the Economist comparing household debt as a percentage of disposable income across OECD countries.

Household debt across OECD countries

The graph presents a number of points for discussion. Let’s focus on the United States compared to Canada. The graph shows that the 2012 debt level in the US is far below the level of debt experienced in 2007 just before the housing crisis and subsequent recession. In contrast, see that Canada’s debt levels have only expanded since the recession.

Below is another chart showing the debt levels over time from the Task Force on Financial Literacy. We see the debt to income ratio has risen dramatically since 1990. At what point does the rising debt become a social welfare problem in Canada, or has it already?

Household debt Canada 2010

Fewer people in poverty?

Andrew Coyne in the National Posts reviews poverty measurement and trends over time in the article Fewer people sit below the poverty line now than ever before. Why are we not talking about it?His overall point is that poverty has gone down in Canada.

But still: a much smaller proportion of the population now lives on low income, using a benchmark that was considered the acme of progressivism just a few years ago. The numbers that would be considered poor by the standards of 1965 must be a fraction of that.

The article focuses on the distinction between relative and absolute measures and defines the LICO measurement for the lay audience. Further, the story gets to the heart of the debate between income and consumption and what it means to be poor in a rich society.

Results from the 2011 National Household Survey: Low Incomes

Stats Can released the Income of Canadians report from the National Household Survey. The report indicates that 7 in 10 Canadians are on welfare, i.e., receiving some form of social assistance (reminds me of famous Ambramovitz article; Abramovitz, M. (2001). Everyone is still on welfare: The role of redistribution in social policy. Social Work, 46(4), 297–308.).

Focusing on the lower income Canadians, the report suggests:

The majority of income for people in the lowest two income deciles came from government transfers (55.1% in the second decile and 67.5% in the lowest decile). In contrast, government transfers represented 5.0% of total income in the ninth decile and 2.1% in the top decile.

Almost one-third of those in the second decile were aged 65 and over, so OAS/GIS (21.1%) and other government income (12.3%) were among the main sources of transfer income for this group. Government assistance to people in the bottom income decile came mainly from child benefits (17.3%) and other government income (35.0%).

And, I now see that Stats Can has a video with infographics on Income.


@ArmineYalnizyan posts a commentary in the Globe and Mail

The oldest Montreal study of relative poverty

In 1897, Herbet Brown Ames published the first known studies of poverty in Canada. The study looked at the present day Griffintown neighborhood of Montreal. In addition to chapters on composition of family, homes, rental market, density and crowding, religions and deathrates, Ames conducted an analysis of income poverty. His work bears some resemblance to the later developed low income lines we study today.

We have already learned that there are 7671 families resident within ‘the city below the hill’. As near as can be ascertained these families receive, each week, an aggregate amount of not less than eight-five thousand dollars. This means eleven dollars per week to each family. We have also found that these families include 37,652 persons. This gives, on average, an allowance of two dollars and a quarter per week to each individual. Eleven dollars per family, two and a quarter dollars per individual, these then are the standards of average living in ‘the city below the hill’. (p. 32.)

Ames, H. B. (1897). The city below the hill: A sociological study of a portion of the city of Montreal, Canada. Bishop Engraving and Printing.

Poverty 101: Teaching about poverty and inequality

I was lucky to participate in the first Institute for Research on Poverty Workshop on Poverty 101 this past summer in Madison, Wisconsin. The gathering featured a number of world-class speakers presenting the latest information on understanding poverty. Participants were from a diverse range of fields. I brought back a number of new ideas and connections to inform both my research and teaching. Announcement is below

Poverty 101

Materials from the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP)’s Poverty 101 workshop, held in June 2013, are now available here. The site provides cutting-edge teaching resources for college-level instructors, including slide presentations on the concept of poverty, its causes, policy responses, and more!

Go here for resources

Putting American inequality in perspective

Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post wonkblog pasted a chart based on World Bank data.

The chart puts within country income distribution position on X axis plotted against worldwide position in the distribution on the Y axis. A lot of information here.

Some questions:
1. Does this graph change the way you think about inequality in America? In other countries?
2. How does this graph influence the way you think about relative v. absolute poverty?
3. What additional information would you need to know to change your mind?

I will be recreating this chart, including Canada, the World Income Distribution data via Branco Milanovic.

MDRC paper on Social Impact Bonds and GAI

MDRC came out with a new paper on social impact bonds in April. HERE.

And, a Maclean’s piece on the Guaranteed Annual Income proposal.

Im skeptical of the GAI for a few reasons:

1.    Fiscal. I don’t know how it’s financially possible to provide income equivalent to the all the existing cash and in-kind support. It’s not just eliminating the social welfare system and giving people income.

2.    If it was fiscally possible, I suspect it would require considerable sacrifices in cash and in-kind supports on behalf of the middle class. Not sure this is politically feasible.

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