Looking at one of the real financial literacy issues





 So, there will be recessions and non-recessions (amidst what is an ongoing long Depression).  And in each recession those who fail to grab a chair will be cast out into the dispossessed.  Those who keep their chairs will be allowed to keep some facsimile of the “American lifestyle”.

 Yeah, no. I guess you noticed I stopped blogging.

At first it was just about feeling too tired to spend the three hours it takes me to build a post I'm satisfied with. Later, it was about preferring to read longer books and essays. Lots of economics - which I do not enjoy - and history. Or reading fun, junk books. Or picking up the guitar once in awhile. Or pretty much anything else.

(Which isn't a bad thing. Don't tell anybody, but life mostly happens off-line.)

Yeah, being tired. Maybe thinking about a change.

It's not about the weather. I don't suffer from some version of SADs. As I get older, I find I enjoy winter more and more. It's ending much too early this year. And it's not about my diet, though I confess to, er... being in a place where I could make more effective choices. And it's not about the job, which I still love and treasure.

Though the job has something to do with it. Maybe because I do less literacy work than I used to. I work five days and two evenings a week in a context - a framework of expectations shared by both funders and learners - where classroom success is measured in terms of positive changes in personal finances and employment. I work with people maybe experiencing short-term progress on their way to likely, long term failure.

This may be a problem of framing on my part. I certainly find economics dispiriting in general. The CBC recently reported that New Brunswick lost about 2,600 full time jobs and 2,300 part time jobs last month. Our lower populated, resource-heavy, largely rural north has suffered most. (At the same time municipal and provincial politicians have launched an absolutely reprehensible attack on rural communities as a way of currying favour with more numerous urban voters.)



Over the past six months, across Canada, there has been a decline in both job numbers, and employment wages and standards. The CBC story I read reported, "Statistics Canada also indicated Canada's economy lost 2,800 jobs in February, leaving the unemployment rate little changed at 7.4 per cent." In fact, the national unemployment rate fell a little. But that was only because about 38,000 Canadians were no longer counted as being "unemployed". They weren't counted as "employed" either, mind. They just stopped being counted altogether. In this way, our official stats always undercount the true number of unemployed. A more realistic national unemployment rate would be something like 10 or 11%.

I've read several stories that say Canada's average hourly wages continue to fall behind the cost of living, though I think we're better off in that respect in New Brunswick. I don't know how to read our over-all balance of trade - the dollar amount of what we import compared to the dollar amount of what we export - given the way it changes so much from year to year. I know the loonie has been at parity with the U.S. dollar for the last five years, which may have hurt our manufacturing but doesn't seem to have increased our purchasing power. (Commentators point out that unless things like inflation, taxes and trade subsidies are also equal - which they are not - the dollars are "equal" only in a very narrow sense.) And I note that we still have jobs tied to primary resource extraction - we cut down trees or pump out oil - and a local service economy made up of everyone from restaurant workers to the public sector.  The traditional engine of our economy has been manufacturing, and Canada lost about 500,000 of those jobs in the past 10 years, which can't be good.

At the same time, of course, corporate profits have increased faster than the cost of living (growing maybe 15% in the past two years) suggesting that we are not the victim of blind economic forces. We are, as them occupy people say, the victims of corporations and their political supporters.


Yeah, I know. Economics, eh? Pretty boring.

But the thing is, every time I meet a new learner I ask them why they want to come to my class.  And they tell me they want to get their GED so they can find a job. ("Even as a cleaner," the last one said with real sadness.) And then I think about all these dismal employment numbers and the crisis we're in... though, frankly, we were in a "crisis" when I entered the labour market in 1980, and we've been in one ever since! What's with this permanent belt tightening?! Where's the long term gain our short-term pain was going to buy us?!

Well, it's all short term these days, isn't it.

For now, for the next few months, my learners will feel a little better about their lives, receive accolades from friends and neighbours for "going back to school" and maybe even pass the GED and/or find a job. But chances of employment, like open windows for learning and possibility, can close very quickly and permanently and terribly for adults and families.

***
 P.s. There.  It took about two and a half hours to write this, including time looking up numbers online and re-arranging my paragraphs. Even so, I'm not sure I made any particular point. Maybe I'm just really bad at this?

By the way, I've chosen, mostly out of laziness, not to cite all my sources, and may have even plagiarized a line or two. For more info - more info than the CBC, say - I would recommend  The Progressive Economics Forum or, if you still feel cheerful, Ian Welsh.


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