Triage: Three international reports for weekend reading

All right, I don’t really recommend that anyone read all three of these over the weekend; however, each is interesting reading, at some point. What they have in common is that none of them are written in Canada, or, as far as we know, by Canadians; they do, however, illuminate options and realities in Canada.

First, in the United Kingdom, a report entitled Making Good Society: Final Report of the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland was released . The Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the Carnegie UK Trust, a charitable foundation that initiatives substantial research projects. many focussed on civil society.

Its mandate was to “explore current and possible future roles of civil society associations in relation to the following themes: growing a more civil economy; a rapid and just transition to a low carbon economy; democratising media ownership and content; and growing participatory and deliberative democracy.” Its findings in each area are extensive and based on deep research and strong illustrative examples.  It includes recommendations to governments, the private sector, civil-society organizations and philanthropic organizations.

Its conclusions are overwhelmingly positive. The paragraph below is one example of why this report may be inspirational:

The Commissioners’ optimism for a better balance between market, state and civil society is also grounded in the extraordinary flowering of evidence in recent years of the importance of civil society, social networks, social capital and community activism to our quality of life – from increasing life expectancy, to cutting crime, to economic prosperity. Civil society has also found new energy in the dynamics of globalisation: examples include global campaigns, the philanthropy to be found within diasporas, and technologies that have made it dramatically easier to organise like-minded people in a common cause.

Also earlier this month, to coincide with International Women’s Day in all likelihood, the Social Policy Division of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued a report entitled “Gender Brief.” It provides highlights of data related to gender and women’s roles, including general trends visible in most OECD (developed) countries, and more specific comparisons among those countries.

Under headings like family structures, women’s employment and income status, and public policies toward families, the comparisons put Canada at about the middle in fertility rates, the mean age of women at the birth of their first child, and divorce rates.  Canada is comparatively high in terms of the proportion of children under the age of 14 living in a sole-parent household (3rd), the proportion of women employed (7th), maternal employment rates (7th), and the gender gap in median earnings of full-time workers (4th).  Canada is comparatively low in the gender gap in employment rates (4th from the bottom), gender differences in leisure time (6th smallest difference); and public expenditures, including tax breaks, cash transfers and services (5th from the bottom).

The information is clear, often graphically presented, and will be of interest even to those who don’t normally find numbers to be the easiest approach to understanding policy impacts and differences among countries.

Finally, a recent US study by the Employment Policies Institute compared the impact of a recent increase in the federal minimum wage in that country, and compared it to spending an equal sum on expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (similar to Canada’s Working Income Tax Benefit). The report’s authors found that the latter would raise more than 2.5 times more Americans out of poverty than the more general minimum wage increase.

Although Canada has no federal minimum wage, the relative merits of minimum wage increases and more targetted initiatives to increase incomes of low-income Canadians have been debated in Canada as well. Campaigns have begun in some Canadians cities (and others in the US) to develop a living wage for municipal employees and contractors; a living wage is defined as “a level of pay which enables someone working full time to earn enough to meet their basic needs and build some savings for the future.” Some Canadian economists, notably Dr. Morley Gunderson, have written extensively on minimum-wage issues, and raise their concerns that it may not be an effective poverty-reduction program.

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