Community Dispatch are InfoFacts which provide members of our community with discussion on important social and economic issues that currently affect our lives and collective well-being.
The release of the much anticipated income data from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) in September has placed a chill over the planners and providers of social services, municipal services and economic development strategies. Good information is essential for the development of responsive and efficient social and economic infrastructure. Tragically, many of the concerns about the impact on the integrity of the Statistics Canada data as a result of the Government of Canada replacing the mandatory long form census with a voluntary National Household Survey have proven true (See Community Dispatch Vol. 18, No. 5). This Community Dispatch analyzes the limitations to the recently released data on income, homeownership and shelter cost of Canadians. The information is critical in understanding issues of income security and inequality across our land, province and communities. How do we answer the question: Do we know who we are?
This Community Dispatch focuses on the limitations of the income data from the National Household Survey especially in data quality, data comparability and low income measures.
Due to the change in data collection methodology from a mandatory census to a voluntary survey the non-response rate of the NHS is significantly higher than those of the previous long form census. At the national level, the NHS Global Non-response Rate (GNR)1 is 26.1% compared to 6.5% with the 2006 long form census. In Ontario, the County of Peterborough has a high non-response rate of over 38%. A high non-response rate implies low data quality.
In addition to an overall lower response rate, certain population groups are less likely to respond to the survey such as high and low income individuals, Aboriginals, newcomers and visible minority groups. At this point, there is no way to determine their respective response rates. In order to maintain a high level of data quality, Statistics Canada suppresses data release in geographic areas with a non-response rate higher than or equal to 25% in previous censuses. However, given the high non-response rate and the associated non-response bias2 of the NHS, Statistics Canada raised the data suppression threshold from 25% to 50%. In doing so, data are released for more geographic areas but at lower data quality.
"We're concluding it [the NHS income data] pretty much is garbage," said Professor David Hulchanski, University of Toronto.3
The map shows the geographic distribution of the 2011 NHS Global Non-response Rate (GNR) by census tract4 for Halton Region. Although there is no census tract with a GNR over 50%, there are many areas (shaded in dark brown) with non-response rates equal to or over 25% (suppression threshold for previous censuses). Almost two-thirds (63%) of the census tracts recorded non-response rates equal to or over 25%. The map can serve as a reference point for data quality when interpreting NHS data by census tract in Halton Region.
Although the 2011 NHS provides a snapshot of the income composition in Canada including income sources, government transfers, income redistribution and income by family types, the data should not be compared with those from previous censuses and other similar sources.
Previous long form censuses include usual residents in collective dwellings (lodging or rooming houses, hotels, nursing homes, hospitals, staff residences, jails and so on) and persons living abroad whereas the NHS target population excludes them. The census and NHS represent two different populations.
In fact, Statistics Canada warns users to use caution when comparing income estimates from the NHS to other household income surveys, administrative data or earlier censuses.5 The methodology of how the information was collected, the concepts used and response patterns can affect the comparability of income information.
One cannot establish reliable trend lines from previous censuses to see if Canadians are better or worse off in terms of their incomes. The data gap created between 2005 and 2010 (income data are collected a year prior to the census) precludes any assessment of the impact of the economic recession in 2008. This also includes potential impact of any government economic action plan.
"...the lack of comparability between the 2006 census and the 2011 NHS will make it very difficult for researchers and analysts to judge to what extent our social programs blunted the impact of the Great Recession on the incomes of many middle-class and working families..." said Andrew Jackson, Packer Professor of Social Justice at York University and senior policy adviser to the Broadbent Institute.6
Low Income Measures
In previous censuses, Statistics Canada employs Low Income Cut-offs (LICO) as a measure of low income. It is an income threshold below which families or unattached individuals spend 20% more than average on food, shelter and clothing needs. LICO thresholds are also set at income levels by family size and size of community.
For the 2011 NHS, instead of LICO, Statistics Canada chose the after-tax Low Income Measure (LIM-AT) as a measure of low income. Individuals are defined as having low income if the after-tax income of their households fall below 50% of the median adjusted household after-tax income in 2010.
While LIM is an important measure used broadly internationally, it is important that researchers have access to data flowing from both measures; LIM and LICO.
Low income estimates from the 2011 NHS compared to previous censuses show markedly different trends than those derived from other surveys and administrative data such as the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) or the T1 Family File (T1FF).7 As such, Statistics Canada stated that the NHS low-income estimates are not comparable to census-based estimates produced in the past.
The data gap on low income between 2005 and 2010 will hinder work on poverty reduction in Halton's local areas and neighbourhoods.
"The main finding of the NHS is that, with weaker ability to track change or measure a growing portion of society, we're losing sight of the Canada we're becoming." said Armine Yalnizyan, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.8
Given the problems associated with data quality and comparability, the usefulness of the income data from the NHS is severely limited. Improper use of the data can lead to erroneous conclusions, faulty comparisons, spurious debate and, ultimately, unwise decisions.
At Community Development Halton, we will continue to assess other data sources to meet the data needs of CDH and our community partners.
In the meantime, CDH asks that the federal government reinstate the mandatory long form census for 2016 and beyond.
1. GNR combines the complete non-response (household) and partial non-response (specific questions) into a single rate
2. Community Development Halton, 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), Community Dispatch, Vol.18, No.5. June, 2013 – non respondents tend to have different characteristics from respondents. As a result, there is a risk that the results will not be representative of the actual population.
3. Grant, Tavi. 2013. Canadian income data 'is garbage' without census, experts say.
5. Statistics Canada, Income Composition in Canada, National Household Survey, 2011, Cat. No. 99-014-X201100
6. Jackson, Andrew. 2013. Even a bad survey cannot blind us to income inequality. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/even-a-bad-survey-cannot-blind-us-to-income-inequality/article14251936/
7. Statistics Canada, Persons Living in low-income neighbourhoods, National Household Survey, 2011, Cat. No. 99-014-X2011003
8. Yalnizyan, Armine. 2013. National Household Survey provides blurred look at housing.
Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
Community Development Halton has followed with attention the growth of neighbourhood development initiatives across North America and Europe. We celebrate the strong sense of place- based work where neighbourhood residents generate the social capital necessary to create activities that enhance the quality of their lives and, ultimately, build community organizations to sustain these efforts. “Where We Live Matters” is an exploration into what we already know about neighbourhood development, what successes exist and what challenges continue especially in these changing and turbulent times. “Where We Live Matters” is a journey marked by learning, hope and possibilities of well-being. I am pleased to bring to your attention this important reflection document.
Despite the enormous investments from government and other funders, as well as the efforts of several generations of service providers, complex problems such as concentrated pockets of poverty, social exclusion and poor health outcomes continue to characterize life in many neighbourhoods and communities in Canada. Over time, traditional services and programs have tended to have modest impacts at best and overall social and economic indicators seem impervious to significant change. So, what are we not getting?
Over the last few years, in the hope of having a greater impact on such issues, funders and others have turned to place-based investment in programs, services and approaches and focused their efforts on neighbourhoods. These approaches are characterized by engagement of residents and the coordination of a broad range of stakeholders that include service providers, governments, funders and sometimes the private sector. They are generally seen as the most promising approach to addressing the deep-seated issues neighbourhoods often face. However, the evaluation of the impact of these comprehensive, place-based initiatives is still in its infancy. To date they have had, at best, mixed effectiveness in addressing deep structural issues such as poverty.
Where We Live Matters presents an approach to neighbourhood work based on best and promising practice. It also acknowledges some of the limitations to and the challenges of neighbourhood work that arise from the larger social structures and relationships of power in which neighbourhoods are situated and in which residents seek to build their own futures.
Where We Live Matters presents an approach to effective neighbourhood work built on the following principles and best practices:
While the approach as presented assumes that someone from outside the neighbourhood may start the process, such as a worker from a human service or government agency, it can also be applied to situations where people within a neighbourhood take a look and decide to do something about their community and its issues.1
The following diagram lays out this approachfor neighbourhood work.2
The approach presented in this paper is fluid and dynamic and contains a number of stages or elements. However, it does not propose a linear process, but rather one of repeated cycling back and forth, depending on the situation and the people who are involved in the work. Key elements in the approach are:
An engagement process: If someone from outside the neighbourhood is initiating work, they need time to introduce themselves, to get to know the neighbourhood and begin a process of building trust. If work is being started by someone from inside the neighbourhood, these processes are also important. People should be on the lookout for issues that are identified by a number of residents. It may be possible to identify natural neighbourhood leaders. It is important to encourage these leaders to talk to others until a consensus emerges about the important issues. This process will vary from community to community and neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Eventually, people may agree that it is a good idea to convene a small group to explore some of what was heard as important issues. Alternately, they may decide to put on an event that would provide opportunities for neighbours to chat about issues important to them.
A critical step in this process is encouraging the people who live in an area to define its boundaries. They may NOT correspond to the official definition of the neighbourhood, such as a planning area, a potential problem for urban planners, but not for people living in a place.
The animateur’s role at this stage is building trust and connecting people with one another. An informal inventory of individual and community assets should be kept and maybe even an informal network map, both of which are processes that the neighbourhood residents may later wish to firm up through more formal processes. Once issues are identified, broader participation from the community can be encouraged. This moves the work from engagement to building social relationships, referred to as social capital.
Building social capital is a repeated process of identifying and connecting people and organizations to each other. The animateur has a responsibility to assist others in identifying and furthering connections. Eventually, a formal network mapping session (or several spread out over time) can be useful. This not only involves people in a fun visual exercise, but gives clues as to where there are strengths and weaknesses in the neighbourhood’s networks. Through network building, neighbourhood strengths and community assets are uncovered and vital connections can be made that link community assets to those who can benefit from them.
Building social capacity: As the process of building social capital (connections) increases in scope, the opportunity to develop a good knowledge of the community will emerge. Sometimes this will be informal. In other cases, those who have engaged in the work to date may wish to gain this information by holding a meeting or doing a survey. When assessing community readiness, the animateur will have to consider how to support other new leaders to develop the skill sets they require to do the work without dictating to them what those skill sets should be. Sometimes this can be done by modelling (e.g. how to put a good meeting agenda together or how to do minutes) or through more formal training if this is what residents want. If external experts are needed to do training, it is important that these experts understand they are acting as resources rather than experts who will tell the community what it needs or what it should do.
It is also important to be alert to the opportunity to build a formal vision of where the neighbourhood wants to go or what it wants to set as the goals for its work together.
Finally, the animateur also has a role in encouraging a view of the community that is based on “look what we have to work with” rather than on “look how damaged we are.” At some point, this might lead to formal asset mapping.
Planning and problem-solving: At some point in the process, the community will be ready,or at least believe it is ready, to take on issues and engage in problem-solving. If a formal vision or set of goals has not been established, it is important to do so now.
Nothing feeds success more effectively than success, so it is important for animateurs to determine the neighbourhood’s readiness to act. It is also better to start with quick wins demonstrating that, by working together, neighbours can achieve shared goals. If a neighbourhood is not yet ready, a good explanation about why something might be premature may be all that is required. If the neighbourhood wishes to press on, animateurs have a critical role in assisting the community to reflect on and learn from whatever happens.
As the issues get bigger and more complex, neighbourhoods must deal with the possibility of needing more formal organizational structures and processes. If there has been effective transfer of skills and learning, and neighbourhood assets have been effectively mobilized, some of what constitutes good practice will have already been adopted (for example: communication lines are well understood by all; people have learned to work together respectfully; a tradition of consensus or majority rules will have been established; minutes of meetings are being kept, etc.). As the community becomes more formally organized, the external worker’s role is to give advice, serve as a resource, assist others to leverage resources the neighbourhood has identified that it needs and encourage the ongoing building of social capital and capacity. Ultimately, the people in the neighbourhood will decide what they wish to take on, but the animateur has an important role to play as a resource person throughout this decision-making process.
Communication: Throughout all of these processes, the importance of effective, open communication that helps build trust cannot be overemphasized. Particularly today, the use of social media needs to be factored into communications as does the identification and use of communication vehicles that may be unique to the neighbourhood.
Mattessich, Monsey and Roy identified a number of characteristics of communities in which effective community building processes have been carried out:
While the authors did not set these out formally as readiness indicators, they indicate that the more a community exhibits these characteristics, the more likely it is that community building efforts will be effective. The implications for practice from this set of factors is clear; where there is a gap between what is needed to be ready and actual community conditions, time and resources may well be required to assist the community to become ready for community building.
If someone is interested in doing neighbourhood work, it is helpful to consider the skills and qualities that will make them effective in that work, whether as a worker from outside the community or as a leader in the neighbourhood. Among key qualities and skills are:
(Mattessich, Monsey and Roy 1997, 16-17)
To these qualities, CDH observes that really skilled neighbourhood animateurs are able to “bracket” themselves, i.e. not let their own assumptions and biases colour their work. This does not mean abandoning values and principles, but it does mean being transparent about them, encouraging the same in others and not imposing them on others.
Communities bring with them not just assets and strengths, but they often have embedded within them the potential for conflict in the form of oppressive behaviours and attitudes such as racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia and ableism. There may arise in the work challenging personalities who want to, for whatever reasons, undo the work of the neighbourhood to date, or create difficult power struggles.
Part of working effectively in communities calls on the animateur to assist residents to be conscious of the values and principles they hold to be important and help them name and deal with actions and behaviours that violate them. This is not easy work, but the modelling of appropriate behavior and a willingness to facilitate the identification and resolution of value-driven conflict is well worth the effort.
In getting to the point where an approach to effective neighbourhood work could be presented, an extensive literature search was undertaken along with some ad hoc discussions with seasoned community animateurs.
Where We Live Matters starts with two related sections that help the reader understand key principles and theory that have evolved over the years to describe neighbourhood work (or community work as it is often called), and the best and promising practices that have emerged from the field.
Section One discusses key concepts related to neighbourhood work, including place, community assets, social capital, network mapping, community/social capacity, empowerment and approaches to citizen engagement. Many of these re-emerge in the approach for neighbourhood work that is presented in the paper.
Section Two outlines best and promising practices in neighbourhood work, focusing on place-based versus people-based activity, professional/external control versus resident/local control, asset-based versus deficit-based approaches and the tension that exists between dealing with symptoms versus root causes of persistent social issues.
Finally, because it represented a significant segment of the research that informs this paper, an appendix is included providing a history of place-based neighbourhood work. It explores the rich legacy of place-based practice we have inherited, work that relates to vitalizing or revitalizing neighbourhoods that might normally be viewed as disadvantaged or plagued with social problems.3It begins with the settlement house movement of one hundred years ago and goes on to examine the urban renewal and development years, social activism and social action of the 1960s and later, the place-focused social policy interventions of the American War on Poverty, the Canadian development of universal social programs and the emergence in the last ten to fifteen years of Comprehensive Community Initiatives both in Canada and the United States.
There is a growing sense among many people that the large institutions that have been created over time to manage and regulate our daily lives have failed. This is seen through a diminishing confidence in, and growing disenchantment with, these institutions from which people feel increasingly alienated and which they no longer trust.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by this:
…people’s capacity to self-organize is the most powerful change process there is…
All systems go through life cycles. There is progress, setbacks, seasons. When a new effort begins, it feels like spring. People are excited by new possibilities, innovations and ideas abound, problems get solved, people feel inspired and motivated to contribute. It all works very well, for a time.
And then, especially if there is growth and success, things can start to go downhill. Leaders lose trust in people’s ability to self-organize and feel the need to take control, to standardize everything, to issue policies, regulations, and laws. Self-organization gets replaced by over-organization; compliance becomes more important than creativity. Means and ends get reversed, and people struggle to uphold the system rather than having the system support them. These large, lumbering bureaucracies - think about education, healthcare, government, business – no longer have the capacity to create solutions to the very problems they were created to solve. (Wheatley 2011, 9 - 10)
Place, particularly the smaller local space we call our home, our community, our neighbourhood, holds the promise of being an antidote to the institutional juggernauts around us. It is here that we make connections and can find in each other the resources to effect meaningful change in our day-to-day world.
Being able to work with people where they live in ways which honour them and make a REAL difference in their lives on a day-to-day basis is “right work.” Being able to do this work effectively is critical.
1. Numerous terms can be used relatively interchangeably to describe this role. We have chosen “animateur,” a French term, we are using to mean “a person who enlivens or encourages something, organizes projects and gets people interested in them.”
2. There is an extensive Bibliography attached to this paper. In particular, work by McKnight and Kretzman, Mattessich, Monsey and Roy, Margaret Wheatley and Bill Lee should be consulted when considering the implications for practice when undertaking neighbourhood work.
3. This understanding of disadvantaged neighbourhoods is, itself, shaped by history and a dominant human service system that sees problems and disadvantages rather than assets and resources.
Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
Community Development Halton studies and recommends systematic changes to income security programs in order to allow human beings to flourish and live as participatory citizens in an open and inclusive society. CDH has recommended changes to the Ontario Works rates to move individuals and their families from subsistence to dignity. Moreover, CDH and Poverty Free Halton have demonstrated in the video, “Being Poor in Halton,” that minimum wage earners live in poverty. CDH and Poverty Free Halton’s recent discussion paper, “Calculating a Living Wage for Halton,” explores what a living wage in Halton would be. We invite you to join us in the growing community dialogue on the benefits of becoming a living wage community.
What is a Living Wage?
A living wage is envisioned as a wage that allows working people not just to survive (in minimal physiological terms) but to enjoy a decent quality of life where individuals and their families are included in the social, cultural and economic life of their communities. Holistic consideration is given to the needs of a family rather than just income required for an individual. The amount required for a living wage varies depending on the actual living expenses in a particular community as well as the tax and benefit system. As those items change over time, a living wage is often recalculated annually.
In contrast, minimum wages are set by governments without consideration of the ability of working people to have a quality of life. In addition, a minimum wage does not reflect the differences in the cost of living geographically. The current minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25 per hour. A person working full time at minimum wage would earn less than Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut-off (LICO). As such, minimum wage earners and their families are living in poverty. Whereas a minimum wage is about survival, a Living Wage is about participation and inclusion.
Who pays for low pay?
Low-wages negatively impact the individual worker and their family by withholding the tools that enable people to rise out of poverty. The community is shortchanged by low wages as well. The community experiences multiple effects of low wages, including inequality, high rates of child poverty, poor health, high rates of crime and a weak local economy.
History of the Living Wage in Halton
Community Development Halton partnered with Poverty Free Halton to highlight the issues of poverty in Halton and offer solutions to all levels of government. Out of this partnership the video Being Poor in Halton was produced, which focused on the minimum wage. It highlighted the struggles faced by families attempting to survive on inadequate income levels earned at the minimum wage level. Following this, the next logical step was to determine what wage would allow a working, Halton family to not only meet their basic needs but also live a life of dignity. Nearby, Hamilton already calculated the living wage for their city and their experience was valuable in calculating the living wage for Halton. With assistance from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the calculation of a Halton-specific living wage took shape. The calculations for a living wage in Halton were outlined in a discussion paper presented to an advisory committee in February 2013 in order to elicit feedback. This committee included broad representation from different sectors including local business and nonprofits. CDH utilized this feedback to the final document, Calculating a Living Wage for Halton – A Discussion Paper.
Benefits of a Living Wage
Many living wage champions have summarized the valuable outcomes of a living wage that are experienced by workers, employers and their communities.
Workers earning a living wage receive fair compensation. In turn, they are raised out of poverty, experience a better quality of life, improved health and have increased opportunities for education and skill training.
Employers paying a living wage have seen reduced employee absenteeism, decreased turnover rates, lowered recruitment and training costs due to employee retention, increased morale, productivity and loyalty among staff as well as being recognized in their community as a responsible employer.
The community benefits with greater consumer spending power, increased spending within the local economy and increased civic participation.
Calculating the Living Wage
The calculation of a living wage includes a list of family expenditures, all relevant tax credits, income and payroll taxes and eligible family subsidies (e.g. childcare subsidy program). Family expenditure items include costs associated with basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing and transportation, which can make up to 60 percent of total expenditures. Also included are essential items, including private health insurance, childcare, continuing education and costs associated with maintaining a household. An important aspect of a living wage is social inclusion. Items that contribute to this are fees for school field trips, basic phone, cable and Internet, recreation and monthly family outings. A contingency fund consisting of about 4 percent of the household budget is included in case of emergencies or unforeseen expenses.
Living Wage in Halton
The living wage in Halton was calculated using a custom spreadsheet developed and made available by Hugh Mackenzie in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as part of a growing collaboration across Canada. Calculations were made for three different household types: a single person, a family of two (parent and child) and a family of four (two parents and two children). Each household type has unique expenditures, subsidy eligibility and so forth. Based on this, the living wage is $19.45 for a single individual, $18.69 for a lone parent, and $17.05 for a family of four.
The unique characteristics of Halton region that affect the affordability of living were considered. For example, although limited public transportation is available in Oakville, Burlington and Milton, it is not a viable means of transportation for employment. A car is necessary and for that reason, it is included in the calculation for Halton’s living wage. A car is not included in the living wage calculation of municipalities with fully developed public transportation services.
Living Wage in Other Communities
Calculations for a living wage vary between regions. In 2011, the living wage in Kingston was calculated at $16.29 and $14.95 in Hamilton. In 2008, Toronto’s living wage was calculated as $16.60 and in 2012, Calgary’s living wage was $14.50. Metro Vancouver’s living wage is $19.62 and Greater Victoria’s is $18.73, both calculated in 2013. These regional variations are accounted for in the differences in areas such as rental housing costs and accessibility of public transportation.
Living Wage Employers
Since the mid-1990s, living wage ordinances have been implemented in over 150 municipalities in the United States. Municipalities, universities and businesses within the UK and Canada are increasingly adopting living wage policies and the movement is growing.
In April 2010, New Westminster, BC became the first municipality in Canada to adopt a living wage ordinance. In March 2013, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) became the first elected body in Ontario to declare itself a living wage employer. BC’s Living Wage Certification Program includes about 35 organizations, including VanCity and the United Way of Lower Mainland. Currently, there is a campaign at Simon Fraser University to become the first living wage university in Canada.
The impact of implementing a living wage has been well documented in the literature. Although much of the research has been prospective in nature, post-implementation studies are increasing, which contributes to well-informed policy development. Proponents of the living wage point to the benefits reaped by individual workers, employers, and communities. Skeptics raise concerns about the economic viability of mandating a living wage. Both perspectives are addressed in the literature and demonstrate that while there are little to no negative impacts documented, there are many positive outcomes associated with living wage implementation.
Role of Public Policy
Public policy plays an important role in achieving affordability for families. Policy changes that contribute to a reduction in family’s expenses lower the wage required to be paid by employers. British Columbia’s A Living Wage for Families campaign presents what some of these policies could be and their potential impact.
Housing: Policy change requiring an increased proportion of new units built are affordable. This will lower the costs of housing, which account for a substantial percentage of a family’s expenses.
Childcare: Look to Quebec’s subsidized childcare services. Reducing the burden of childcare costs on the family makes it feasible for both parents to work without a significant portion of their earnings going towards childcare.
Transportation: Improved quality and quantity of public transportation decreases the need to own one or more cars along with the associated expenses that go along with car ownership.
Health care: Medical, drug and dental coverage provided to all low-income people reduces the demands on individual families.
Taxes: Raising the claw-back thresholds for government transfers and subsidies.
To move forward, a living wage campaign for Halton needs to be developed. Broad-based support and involvement is required. Currently a committee made up of representatives from Community Development Halton, Poverty Free Halton and the Halton Poverty Roundtable is meeting to develop the framework for a living wage campaign.
Educating the community about the need for a living wage, as well as the associated benefits, is an important part of gathering allies for this campaign. The living wage is linked to wider social issues and recognition of this will strengthen the campaign for a living wage in Halton.
The document Calculating a Living Wage in Halton – A Discussion Paper is available on Community Development Halton’s website.
Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
Archive of Community Dispatch newsletters. Community Dispatch are InfoFacts which provide members of our community with discussion on important social and economic issues that currently affect our lives and collective well-being.