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Underclass are still subject to a lack of empathy and understanding

Photo: CC, Public Domain

I grew up with the crazy idea that you should treat your fellow human beings with respect, especially if they need a helping hand.

It seems like most politicians didn’t learn or retain that lesson. According to much of North America’s public policy and even the upper and middle classes’ public perception, poor people or those seeking financial aid are social degenerates who should be treated with nothing but the utmost contempt.

Take places like Florida, Utah, and Tennessee, for example: American states that have taken up the shady practice of drug testing welfare applicants. Even though these drug testing programs have all been colossal failures historically—with severely flawed testing methodology and low positive test rates—American lawmakers seem content with continuing this trend. And in late December, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder enacted a brand new $500,000 drug testing pilot program in an ongoing effort to characterize the less fortunate as irresponsible criminals.

Thankfully, no such legislation exists here in Canada. But this kind of condescending attitude toward people in need transcends national borders. A lot of the time, this ire is directed at millennials, mostly because they have the gall to seek out financial aid. One need only examine the cavalcade of self-important op-eds from a news organization like the Globe and Mail to see the extent of this generational smear campaign, where young people are constantly depicted as being lazy, self-entitled leeches who are always looking for a handout.

Outside of the smug and curmudgeonly tone of this kind of rhetoric, most of these welfare critics seem to be completely unsympathetic to the bleak economic realities that are financially crippling people of this generation.

Most baby boomers and gen Xers never had to deal with the severity of modern student loan debt, which, in Canada, currently averages around $25,000. This staggering debt isn’t at all helped by a rather grim job market, where high level figures like Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz are so disconnected from reality that they are under the impression that the country’s up and coming workforce can get ahead by just working for free.

Moreover, these critics seem unmoved by the fact that the wealth gap is the highest it’s ever been in modern history. A recent report from Statistics Canada found that the bottom 50 per cent of Canadians own just six per cent of the wealth, while the net worth of the country’s top 10 per cent continues to grow. There isn’t some obvious or easy solution to eradicating poverty in Canada and the rest of the world. But treating society’s most vulnerable members like they are untrustworthy criminals or shiftless sloths is definitely not the answer.

Besides, if Canada’s dubious economic prospects for 2015 are any indication—which include more lost jobs and an increase in youth unemployment—very many of us are going to be looking for a helping hand in the not-so-distant future.