Monday afternoon on the streets of Toronto, I spent a couple of hours talking to workers — people, in other words — about their lives in a troubled economy.
Three take-aways struck me:
First, at street level in Canada, a lot of folks feel very fortunate indeed. They’re not romantics. They don’t think their country is perfect. You find Occupy camps in places like Kingston and Toronto, just as you do in Burlington and New York City.
But even people who’ve spent time on unemployment think that their country is a relative oasis in a world where economies still seem at risk of unraveling.
The second thing that seemed striking was that these people — obviously this was about as unscientific a sampling as you could find — trust their society’s social safety net.
They simply don’t believe that their country will ever just cut them loose if they’re jobless. That’s not to say that Canada’s unemployment benefits are lavish — they’re not.
But you just get the sense here that Canadians trust their government — and believe in government’s moral role when it comes to serving as a backstop to the job market.
Finally, I heard a lot of real misgivings about America’s way of thinking and talking about jobless people.
The idea that people must be lazy, or slackers, or leeches, in order to be unemployed, or unsuccessful — that just didn’t wash with the people I spoke to.
Here’s the conversation I had with two women, Nicole and Nina, as they were walking home from work:
Nina: I think [American workers are] treated worse than we are, personally. I don’t agree that they don’t get healthcare. And I don’t agree that once they’re out of a job, they’re out of everything. I think they need some of the types of benefits that we have here. Yeah, we pay a lot of tax, but it adds up and I think it ends up being beneficial to us.
Nicole: I do think that Americans are treated poorly in terms of your economic living. Like, where is the money going? The rich seems to be getting richer and the poor seems to be getting poorer over there.
Brian: Do you think that’s in Canada too, or more in the United States.
Nicole: It’s more the United States.
One thing that I will say is that there is no evidence — at least that I can find — that Canada’s more robust safety net results in more malingering, or more abuse of the welfare system.
On the contrary: There’s a fair amount of evidence that these programs help to stabilize Canada’s economy, maintaining a more educated, healthy, productive work force.
So what do you think? Is this a case where our neighbors to the north have a better model? Or do you prefer our more laissez-faire system? Comments welcome below.