Poverty is exhausting

Poverty can be unrelenting, shame-inducing and exhausting. When people live so close to the bone, a small setback can quickly spiral into a major trauma. Being a few days behind on the rent can trigger a hefty late fee, which can lead to an eviction and homelessness. An unpaid traffic ticket can lead to a suspended license, which can cause people to lose their only means of transportation to work.

The $15 Minimum Wage Doesn’t Just Improve Lives. It Saves Them. (The New York Times

I missed out on a lot of hallmark experiences as a kid, like the Grade 8 field trip to Quebec City that everyone took. We couldn’t afford it.

There were similar excursions in high school, but because we didn’t have the money, and the school was responsible for us during the day, we were effectively kept in detention — cafeteria, monitored, not allowed to leave without an escort.

I remember moments where we thought we’d end up homeless because we couldn’t make rent. Our holiday meals came in Christmas Hampers from the local food bank.

In hindsight, I know that what I went through was nothing compared to others in my community. I didn’t have a crippling medical condition. If things got really bad, we had family that’d take us in.

Things are much better today. I don’t worry about money like we did when I was growing up. But I know that there are other people, other kids, other families, going through this right now.

The social safety net — social assistance, OSAP, and other programs — helped us. Between that, and my mom pushing us from a young age to read and learn on our own, we eventually got out.

My mom went back to school. I went to college. My sister went to university. But we couldn’t have done it without the help of government programs.

That’s why I lean to the left. It’s why I’ve always voted for the NDP or Liberals. It’s why I’m happy to pay my taxes and donate to causes that support education. I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end. It can be life changing.

My general thinking on it: Social programs are an investment, not an expense. Our society — our communities — are an asset. By investing in the upward mobility of our citizens, we create a stronger society.

And, for the record, that doesn’t make me anti-business. I’m all for investing there, too! But I believe that investment needs to come on top of the social safety net.

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