Time to debate guaranteed income for all Canadians

By Pradip Rodrigues

When Jeremy Rifkin’s The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era hit the shelves back in 1995, it envisaged the world in which we now live. Most people assumed it to be true, but imagined it would happen at a glacial pace. Others swissbelieved that better jobs would replace those being lost and while that is true, it is clear that there are fewer well-paying jobs replacing those being lost. With technology replacing humans at a frightening pace, it is now becoming devastatingly clear that large sections of the population can expect to find themselves permanently shut out of the market as their skills turn obsolete or their jobs are taken by computers or robots. Even a truck driver could find himself out of a job very soon.
With so many hundreds of thousands of workers who can expect to be out of work for large stretches of time during their prime working years, talk about retirement age seems more like a cruel joke or irrelevant. More people in the workforce than ever before cannot even think of retiring in their 70s. More so in the case of immigrants who by default are often forced into unemployment, survival or part-time employment the minute they land here.

40 years in the workplace

Most working people usually spend 40 years in the workforce but then more people than ever before are finding it impossible to spend 40 or even 30 years in the workforce. For example if a lawyer, teacher or management trainee gets into his or her field 1,2 or 3 years after graduating, the person starts off later and so would naturally want to work until he or she was 69 in order to make up for lost time and income. And if the person ends up losing a couple of years in between because of layoffs, forget about any thoughts about retiring before 70.

Those with good jobs often don’t retire at 65

Because a growing number of Baby Boomers with great jobs and benefits aren’t in a hurry to retire, a large section of them will have investments that easily net them well over $50,000 to $70-000 annually after retirement. Should the government really be reconsidering paying OAS to retirees making over $70K? They currently receive approximately $6,764 annually. If you look at it another way, the burden of providing pensions to those making over $70k is shared by people earning a lot less than that in their working lives.
Guaranteed income is the way to go

So what really would help middle and lower-middle class Canadians is unemployment benefits or a guaranteed income supplement to help them cope with either their chronic unemployment or the fear of losing their jobs and all that goes with it. In the next few years, there will be millions of North American workers who could find themselves ‘retired’ by 35. They would however have to wait to 65 however to receive any old age benefits. As their ranks grow more families will end up living below the poverty line once their unemployment benefits run out, social problems could arise at a time when a class of knowledge workers and the growing ranks of millionaires and billionaires keep growing richer. The disparity will pave the groundwork for the perfect storm.
Longer lifespan could be a liability

They may say 40 is the new 30, but in the working world, 40 is increasingly the new 65 for many in the workforce. So perhaps in the years to come those who’ve been chronically unemployed at 40 would be clamoring for early retirement benefits and certainly income support from the government since he has been ‘retired’ by the workforce and not the other way around. Others who choose to work past 65 (if they are above a certain income threshold) should have to give up their OAS benefits for five years after they retire. That should give them some incentive to retire and give someone young an opportunity to get into the workforce.
Ontario’s pilot project makes sense

That is why the government of Ontario’s planned pilot project to test out a guaranteed basic income may just be a step in the right direction. Many other western economies are also realizing that creating a guaranteed income program would be inevitable in the years to come.

Switzerland to vote on guaranteed income

On June 5th, citizens of Switzerland will become the first country in the world to vote on the introduction of unconditional income at the national level.
Under this proposal every Swiss adult resident would have the right to a guaranteed basic monthly income of 2,500 francs a month. It’s backers, a group of intellectuals aim to break the link between employment and income.
Critics of such a radical proposal argue that this would disinsentivize work. But a new survey showed that the majority of Swiss residents would continue working if the guaranteed income proposal was approved. Only two percent would stop working, while eight percent said they could envisage this possibility depending on circumstances.
On the plus side, many women who now work dead end jobs not because they want to feel particularly empowered, may choose to start families and raise children something that isn’t happening because few young people can afford daycare or the cost. Guess what, under the Swiss proposal, even children would be entitled to 625 francs! This would be in the national interest given that there would be more deaths than births had it not been for immigration. In 2012 Ontario alone had 140,000 fewer students in 2012 than it had in 2002. Giving all Canadians a guaranteed income would ensure that no one slipped into poverty, more couples would view child raising more favorably and have two or three children, (the danger is that some could choose to have a dozen)  it is unlikely that those who want that bigger house or fancier lifestyle would still continue to work despite having so-called Cash For Life. With a guaranteed income in place, Canadians would embrace and welcome technology instead of fearing and viewing it as a threat. Today it is the unwarranted fear of ‘foreigners and immigrants taking our jobs’ without the guaranteed income, you could add computers and robots to that list.

Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

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