We’ve been overwhelmed by reader responses to our series on Canada’s instability trap. Our stories on Canada’s ebbing workforce, asset poverty and the payday loan cycle have clearly struck a chord with real people dealing with these challenges on a day-to-day basis. It’s troubling to be confronted by such potent evidence that, even as we’re told the country’s prospering, normal Canadians are struggling to simply get by. But it’s also a sign these are issues we need to keep discussing.
Do you have a story you want to share? Please tell us. Below are just a few of the hundreds of responses we’ve received so far. We’ll be publishing more, and following up with many of you in the days and weeks to come.
Posts have been edited for length and clarity.
Read the series
“The stigma that comes with people living on assistance is wrong”
I’m an educated person who quit post-grad studies due to the recession as I couldn’t afford to take on any more debt at my age.
Social Assistance has its pros and cons. One of the greatest cons is that it’s very difficult to get off of it when they are taking dollar for dollar what you make at a job. What they should do is leave the monies earned until the person is well past the three-month probationary period when employers do not have to give a reason to terminate a worker.
Food costs and rent costs are out of touch and unrealistic for anyone living below the poverty line.
I am on provincial disability and I can tell you as a single mother it’s not easy.
I believe that when a government job is posted it should be offered to people living on assistance/disability prior to it being offered to the public. The stigma that comes with people living on assistance is wrong and not every person on it is lazy, a drug user or a “parasite” as society likes to call us.
It’s shameful for anyone to make someone struggling to live feel like they do not matter. I cannot even take on a minimum wage job as my student loan payments are more than $600 per month. Then rent, food, hydro bills, etc. on top of that.
Social Assistance and even provincial disabilities are set up for people to fail.
“It’s not that I don’t want to work; it just doesn’t pay to do so.”
As a single mother of two children, I felt a need to represent what a responsible adult is to them. That meant working for a living.
The only jobs I could find were part-time in retail. The money was very little, but I got into a low-income housing program which made it possible. Still, it was a struggle.
Part-time retail work means working evenings and weekends (not typical daycare hours) and less family time. I had to fight with my employer to get an availability that allowed me to get home in time to put my children to bed. I also didn’t have medical benefits so my son’s medication, all dental work and my daughter’s glasses came out of my pocket. I lived this way for ten years.
When I entered a new relationship and had another child, my husband and I looked over the costs and benefits of me returning to work and decided against it. The high cost of daycare for an infant and a child with special needs would take my whole paycheck. It’s not that I don’t want to work; it just doesn’t pay to do so.
“A circle of debt”
I have owned a pawnshop in Edmonton for over 25 years. Over these years I have seen the damage caused by payday enders. I understand the need of acquiring a short term loan for those unexpected surprises in life. I’ve been there myself! The problem with payday loans is “they trap an individual in a circle of debt,” which is next to impossible to get out of.
I take offence to the payday loan industry slamming the mom and pop pawnbroker time and time again. A collateral loan is in most cases half the cost of a payday loan and most importantly, “pawn loans are a non recourse loan.” Simply put, if you can’t afford to repay your loan, don’t pick up your article and best of all, we are not going to hound you with phone calls or threaten legal action.
That being said, the answer to the problem may be as simple as the Federal government legislating the big banks to provide short term loans to those who need it!
“Our brightest people are getting sick … and dropping out of the workforce.”
Working as a lecturer at three or four universities at a time with an MA and most of my doctorate finished was paying $27K annually. Child care for two costs $33K, and the long hours on the road between universities – around fifty hours per week – made me very ill for a period of time with no short-term disability benefits to boot. I’ve since quit that dead-end professorial career to work as a part-time administrative assistant on my spouse’s IT company despite twelve years of grad school on the professor track. Employers, including our institutions of higher education, expect good people to work themselves sick for no pay or benefits. With two kids to raise and a dependent sister to think about, my life and health weren’t worth destroying in order to work for free (after child care my income was negative). Unfortunately there are enough desperate PhDs out there that the churn through our collective health continues. So many of our brightest people are getting sick – mentally and/or physically – and dropping out of the workforce. My supervisor on one course died at 48, I suspect of the same staph infection I got at the time – immune system weak from exhaustion. Scary stuff out there in the university contract trenches, like tales from before labour laws existed. Although I’m sad for the demise of quality university programs due to worker exploitation, it’s just wasn’t worth sacrificing my health and well being to remain in the field.
“The pay isn’t enough to cover the rent”
I’m a single female. No dependents. I’ve been out of work as a Senior Administrative Assistant for close to two years. The market is tough and getting tougher.
Unemployment is about to run out and with no income (savings have gone), I will have to turn to social assistance. Believe me, I have busted my butt trying to find a job. I’m tired! I’m stressed!
Like others, I’ve come to the point where I will accept temp or contract even though the pay isn’t enough to cover the rent. Employers know it’s their market. Thus not offering a reasonable wage.
I’ve considered pursuing the Second Career option. They offer you $28,000 total for two years. From that comes your tuition, books and other education expenses. Oh and let’s not forget your rent, transportation costs, food and any bills. Are they serious? They expect you to live below the poverty line! I couldn’t even pay my rent on that. Or perhaps they’re assuming I live with family or have a family to support me? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.
No matter what option I choose to pursue, if I find a part time, temp or contract job to make ends meet, the government deducts that income from what they’re giving you. I did have a couple of contracts and this is exactly what happened.
Seriously, you want to support yourself without help from the government. I grew up with the belief that you take care of yourself; not to depend on anyone . But how can I do that with the job market the way it is?
That’s my story. It sucks being unemployed after 30 years of being in the work force.
“The hamster wheel of despair”
I am 64 and have been on welfare for twenty years. Lots of university, college and technical education. But I didn’t plan on getting an anxiety disorder for my full working life. Been through hundreds of jobs and live in a room in subsidized housing. $542 for everything including rent, food, etc. Welfare makes you feel like you’re a criminal. I have been actively searching for work,but rarely get a call back once a year. I get age discrimination and mental illness discrimination 24/7.
How in God’s name can you get off the hamster wheel of despair??
“We are not allowed to have any savings.”
I’m 47 years old, and I haven’t worked since 2011. I have three children. I’ve had some mental health issues since then. My family survives by my wife’s ODSP payment. We live in rent-geared-to-income housing; we are lucky that way. If we had to pay full rent for a three-bedroom townhouse, we be in a shelter or on the street. The hard thing at my age is finding a job paying enough money. Temp jobs just don’t pay $17 or $18 per hour. And many of the jobs I would have to commute 30-45 minutes away. I live in Waterloo; many of the jobs are in Guelph or Cambridge. If I did manage to find a job, most of them are paying $12 or $13 an hour. My rent would easily triple; I would be working just to cover the increase in rent. And I still would not be getting ahead. ODSP deducts any income made from the main payment. It’s really confusing: If I was working, how much money would I actually be bringing home? I don’t qualify for Second Career because my last employer put “Dismissed” on my Record of Employment. If it said “Laid Off” I would have qualified. I have fought with my former employer to change it, but to no avail. So that means to go back to school, I would have to take an OSAP loan for about $15000. And then MAYBE find a job in my field? A school loan of that amount is a huge burden to pay back at my age. We are not allowed to have any savings, so if something major happens, say to our car, it has to go on the credit card. More debt. The only way we can save is for me to give money to my parents: They have a savings account in their name. Honestly, I don’t know what we are come retirement time. But really, how many firms are going to hire a 47 year old at a decent liveable wage? What’s the point of looking for work?
“Why am I jobless?”
I’m in my mid-twenties and still looking for a job. I am wanting to save up for my physics university studies but can’t seem to find employment no matter how hard I look. I am still living with my parents. I still catch the bus. I’m still not eating as great as people on my Facebook timeline. But why? I am smarter then a majority of people. I graduated high school and am good at math and am a good public speaker. Why am I jobless? … It hurts to see my family struggle, especially my mother. She is the only worker in the household with my dad retired. It shouldn’t be this hard to live. Sometimes I think to myself that I don’t want to live any longer in a country where my education counts for nothing. Why would I have to do roofing or other labour work with people who have way less qualifications then me? Why do they get paid more? It is hard to live here in Canada and I feel like giving up :( When i was a young student I was always being told on how important it is to graduate. I graduated with really high academics. Does it seem like it matters? Not at all.
“How am I to pay my bills?”
My wife is currently on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). I have a job and ODSP currently takes about 42 per cent of my gross income or just over half of my net income. I get that, but here is my problem: I have cancer.
I will at some point be required to take time off for treatment. When I do, ODSP will claw it back dollar for dollar even though I paid into it myself. How is that fair and how am I to pay my bills?
“If I was a single mom, I could not afford to go to work”
I’m a successful helicopter pilot and manager at a mid-sized helicopter company. I also have two small children. Because of the irregular and sometimes lengthy hours I work, the only childcare option for me is a live-in nanny.
Aviation is federally regulated, but my nanny is provincially regulated. This makes things difficult for things like BC statutory holidays (Family Day and BC Day), which I do not get off but have to pay my nanny 2.5x her regular wage to work. Also, the federal averaging agreement is much less strict than the provincial averaging agreement and I do not get paid overtime anyways because I’m a manager.
When all is said and done, I come out with around $800 in my pocket after paying for childcare only for the privilege of going to work. I would get twice that on EI.
Luckily, I am married and my husband works as well, so I work mostly to get ahead in my career. But I would probably make more money selling products out of my house or offering childcare to others than as a professional. And if I was a single mom, I could not afford to go to work.
“I was going to five different payday loan places”
While serving in the Navy in Esquimalt I divorced my former wife. Making the payments and now child support payments I found myself short in no time. I saw the payday loans as a quick way to solve the immediate stress I was experiencing at the time. However the cycle that has been described above [in the Global News article] trapped me to the point where I was going to five different payday loan places. None of the payday loan places ever asked if I was involved with another and with subsequent loans they increased the amount I was allowed to borrow. It was to the point where I was re-borrowing the money from each of them only to pay the other off.
In the end I defaulted on them all and dealt with numerous phone calls to my supervisors, and home. I was berated on the phone, received written warnings at work, and had my wages garnished. I was able to pay most off but only one at a time. In short I was in a bad spot and my actions along with the easy access to a “short term” loan made my position even worse. I haven’t dealt with any type of payday loan place in years. The temptation was there but the memory of how I was treated and remembering how it was almost impossible to get out of has kept me away from their legalized loan-sharking.
“I feel trapped”
For the longest time, I’ve been trying to get back to school. Get myself a career. But I’ve had a few events that put those plans on hold. Now I have a four-year old and a nine-month baby.
I have debts. My husband works full-time, but we can barely keep up with the bills. I want to go back to work. I used to work at Tim Horton’s, but school is only half-day for my boy and daycare is too expensive!
I feel trapped! I have a few friends in the same position as me (kids, husband’s cheque not big enough, can’t afford to go to school because of daycare, etc). I don’t know where to go from here.
I want to go to [Manitoba] Housing but I don’t think they would accept us because of how much my hubby makes, [especially] if I started working, too.
It feels like when you try to do the right thing, live an honest life, get married, etc, you get the short end of the stick! My friend is a single mom going to university, doesn’t have a job, has her “MB Housing” apartment, her son in daycare and in karate… How does this happen? People that are married or do claim common law should be able to get the same assistance! It’s hard out here for everyone!
“After your first loan that is so easy to get, you keep going back.”
I started quite a few years ago in Calgary where I would struggle with rent or paying for food. And it all starts with one easy-to-get loan and ends with a huge balance owing and creditors calling to get their money back. On my credit report, I probably have about 7 outstanding debts to different lenders like Money Mart or Cash Money and I’ll probably never be able to pay them back.
I had to go to Credit Counselling Services of B.C. and ask them to help me either claim bankruptcy or find another way. I chose to pay for my own debt and I started a debt repayment plan but since losing my job over a year ago and not being able to find work my DMP was cancelled, so I’m back to square one again.
After your first loan that is so easy to get, you keep going back. The first few are easy to pay back but then they offer you more money every time to pay them, to the point where it’s just too high to pay back, I was giving them an entire cheque at times and having to re-loan every time. It’s a trap, you just get suckered in. Now the majority of my debt is owed to these cash places.
“Welfare is a terrible trap.”
Welfare is a terrible trap. … The initial amount provided by welfare is far from enough to live healthily while conducting a good protracted effort at finding a job which one is expected and required to do while collecting benefits.
Out here in Surrey, one of the main problems I encounter is that while it may be true rent may be cheaper out here, it can seem as if all the work and jobs are advertised for Burnaby and Vancouver and elsewhere.
The cost of a trip over 3 zones during the day? $5.50. Two ways means $11 from the monthly reserve. Can I have a coffee and a croissant that day? Probably not. That would mean approaching $15 for the one day.
Seems to me that providers of welfare dollars should be drawn to see the sense of providing monthly bus passes to serious people who want to work.
The less time spent on welfare the better and the faster one can get back into the workforce the better. And a bus pass would (in theory) help fast-track the person to a job and save from more money paying out over a longer period of time.
Theoretically, $500 spent on bus passes over 3 months would work out to be less than the total amount spent over the longer term by a person stuck spinning their wheels, stuck in one geographical locale unable to travel to job interviews.
And yet bus travel expense is just one facet of the job search. Lets say I need a haircut because it has been several weeks since the last one and I need one to look presentable. Or what if I run out of shaving equipment? What if I need a winter jacket dry-cleaned? After three months even running shoes can start to look worn thin and new ones are needed to stay in shape. Fact is, the recipient is supposed to use the amount from support to pay for such things, thereby subtracting from your own food allowance.
Tell us your story: Have you given up on the job market? Have you been trapped by social assistance, or in a cycle of payday loan debt? Do you find yourself living paycheque to paycheque? We’d love to hear from you.
Note: We may use your response in this or other stories. While we may give you a shout to follow up we won’t publish your contact info.