Triage: top three social policy stories of the week

As Parliament settles back into its routine, attention can be turned to broader social policy questions and issues.  The following are the top three for this week.

How many people are homeless? Is the number increasing or decreasing? How can we know?  At the local level, a range of Canadian cities do a snapshot count of people who are homeless in their communities, but official national statistics are not available. (In the interest of full disclosure, my name is on the report that last link will lead you to, but most of the work was done by “co-author” Hilary Jensen, who was an intern at the Library of Parliament when it was written in 2008.)

Although Statistics Canada reported ten years ago that counting the homeless would be inordinately expensive (estimated at $10 million at that time), the Australian Census had a targetted strategy to include homeless people in its 2006 count.  The most recent announcement is that the US Census will include homeless people for the first time later this month, in its 2010 Census, according the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

It will use a method called Service-Based Enumeration, with specific dates to count people in shelters, another in soup kitchens and mobile food services, and a third at “targeted non-shelter outdoor locations.” In addition, the Census Bureau will offer a questionnaire to those who believe they have not been counted through other means, and will conduct counts at pre-announced locations for those who do not get captured otherwise.  There is no estimate of cost provided in Census Bureau information.

The Caledon Institute of Social Policy has just released five short papers to profile aspects of its more in-depth study on in the interaction of student financial aid and social assistance, entitled When Student Aid Meets Social Assistance.. A list of the shorter publications with links to them are available on the Caledon website. Only days before these papers were released, the Ontario government announced, as part of its Speech from the Throne its intention to increase the number of spaces in post-secondary institutions by 20,000 this year alone, and promised that “every qualified Ontarian who wants to go to college or university will find a place.”

Earlier this week, Toronto-Dominion Bank issued a report on the future of the labour force, echoing many of the same themes raised in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce report cited in the triage two weeks ago. In the TD Report, Chief Economist Don Drummond along with a bank economist Francis Fong identify an inevitable cost of adjustment facing employers as they face the retirement of most older workers, the growing income and education within the Canadian population.  Providing detailed analysis (made clearer with charts) of thees trends, the authors conclude:

it is evident that the Canadian labour market faces some very significant challenges in the years ahead and that it is crucial that we overcome all of these issues. The Canadian workforce is the most culturally diverse and dynamic in the world and there is much to be gained by utilizing everyone to their full potential, but the blinding speed with which the workforce is changing requires flexibility on the part of employers.

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