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UNICEF gives Canada a passing grade, child poverty actually fell during the recession … or did it?

UNICEF Children of the Recession Innocenti Report Card 12 CoverLet’s see if we can make sense of this.

UNICEF has just given Canada a passing grade, mind you barely a pass, when it comes to the fight against child poverty. In a report released today it claims that 21% of Canadian children live in poverty, nothing to brag about, but at least this is lower than the 23% who were poor just before the recession started in 2008.

Interestingly, Statistics Canada also says child poverty is down, but that only 8.5% of kids are poor. However, at the same time it says child poverty is up, reaching almost 14%. And finally, if this is not confusing enough, it says that, yes, 14% of kids are poor, but this is down since 2008.

Up or down? One-in-five kids poor, or one-in-seven, or maybe even as few as only one-in-eleven?

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UNICEF reports that child poverty in the US was held in check during the Great Recession

UNICEF Children of the Recession Innocenti Report Card 12 CoverIt is an understatement to say that the US welfare reforms of the 1990s were intended to give a little spring to the social safety net.

The intention was much more radical, involving a major make-over of income support, and turning what was imagined as a net ensnarling many Americans behind a welfare wall, into a trampoline, a springboard that would incentivize work and allow them to ride a wave of prosperity to higher incomes that would lift their children out of poverty.

But this is hardly what is needed when times turn bad.

The only virtue of a trampoline when employment falls by more than 8 million, when the unemployment rate more than doubles, and when median incomes drop by over $10,000, is that it catches you on the way down.

American families needed a safety net during the Great Recession, and a report released by UNICEF on child poverty suggests, surprisingly enough, that is exactly what they got.

The rate of child poverty, in spite of all the macroeconomic turbulence of the last six years, has hardly budged. This is in large measure because of discretionary policy changes on the part of the Federal government that quickly turned the clock back to the welfare system of the 1980s.

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A FactBook about employment in Canada based upon Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey

Employment of young people in Canada

Every month Statistics Canada releases employment and other labour market indicators. They are much used, much discussed, and arguably much misinterpreted. Here is a short FactBook about employment, using information from January 2005 to August 2014, clarifying some of the definitions, offering some suggestions on how to use the numbers, and highlighting some of the recent trends.

Employment Factbook using Labour Force Survey from Statistics Canada January 2005 to August 2014

There are three major messages:

  1. If you want to be “really” certain that a month to month change in employment is not just statistical noise, then it has to be pretty large, say larger than 57,000
  2. Employment has barely kept up with population growth during the last five years; for young people this is not even the case, there being no growth at all
  3. The fraction of the working age population employed has yet to return to pre-recession levels, and has been falling during the past year, which seems to be due to a fall in the employment rate of women

“Inequality and its discontents”: Introduction

[On September 22nd I had the honour of giving the 2014 Mabel Timlin Lecture---"Inequality and its Discontents"---at the University of Saskatchewan. This post is the introduction, and the full lecture will be published in the near future.]

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Two facts about “The prospects for this generation in an unequal world”

Keith Davey Forum Invitation Victoria University at the University of Toronto 2014

On Wednesday evening, September 17th, I was at the University of Toronto as one of the panelists participating in the Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs to discuss “The prospects for this generation in an unequal world”. You can watch the full event, which also involved Jeffrey Arnett and Rod Haddow, by clicking on this link.

Here are two facts that I think are important for understanding the economic prospects of the young, and the public policy concerns that arise

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Your summer reading list on inequality and opportunity

Before you finish packing for your vacation to the cottage, the beach, the backyard or the balcony, I thought you would appreciate some suggestions for your summer reading. (If you live in Australia, New Zealand, India, or anywhere else south of the equator, I hope you will read for the sheer pleasure, at work if you must!)

The first book on your holiday reading list is, without doubt, …

 

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I am honoured to have won the “Doug Purvis Memorial Prize” for my research on inequality and social mobility

It is a particular honour to have my paper, “Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility,” chosen for the 2014 Doug Purvis Memorial Prize. The prize is awarded annually by the Canadian Economics Association “to the authors of a highly significant, written contribution to Canadian economic policy.”

That is certainly honour enough, but I’m particularly grateful for another reason.

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Social mobility, fixed forever? Gregory Clark’s The Son Also Rises is a book of scholarship, and of scholastic overreach

[ This post is a book review of: Gregory Clark (with Neil Cummins, Yu Hao, and Daniel Diaz Vidal and others), 2014. The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. ]

The Son Also Rises forcefully advances the idea that social position is determined by innate inherited abilities, an idea that is potentially pregnant with policy implications. “Once you have selected your mate,” Gregory Clark counsels, “your work is largely done. You can safely neglect your offspring, confident that the innate talents you secured for them will shine through regardless.”

With this book Professor Clark (an economic historian with the University of California at Davis) dons the mantle of Francis Galton, who more than 100 years ago examined the transmission of status across the generations of 19th century England, and who is equally known for the statistical methods he developed to study the issue.

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Joseph Fishkin’s book, “Bottlenecks,” explains why inequality lowers social mobility

Bottlenecks

[ The Brookings Institution has been having an online discussion of Bottlenecks: A New Theory of Equal Opportunity, a book by Joseph Fishkin. This post is a re-blog of my contribution, "Money: a Bottleneck with Bite." ]

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Families need insurance for wages and for family responsibilities

[ This post is a summary of a presentation called "Public insurance to promote social mobility" that I made to the "Social Mobility Summit" held at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC on January 13th, 2014. It is intended for an American readership, and is also posted in an abridged form on the Brookings website. ]

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