Yves Giroux, the parliamentary budget officer, is expected to post a costing note on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which is providing $2,000 a month for four months to Canadians forced out of work due to the pandemic, in an April 30, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Painful Truth: Fear no way to run an economy

Asking for people to be thrown off the CERB to work for less is cruel

The complaints about the federal governments CERB have begun, and they’re as predictable and sad as expected.

The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit gives $2,000 a month – $24,000 a year, if it runs for 12 full months – to anyone who has lost their job due to the coronavirus pandemic.

We’re barely into the re-opening of businesses, but we’re about three weeks into the complaints by various business leaders and columnists that this is creating a disincentive for people to go back to work.

How can those poor, poor employers get people working if the CERB will give them more money to stay home?

A recent Financial Post column noted that employers were particularly having trouble with “those who are part-time and those seeing reduced hours.”

Well, yeah.

“Hey, we used to pay you more, and then we laid you off, and now we want you to come back, but we’re going to pay you even less than before” isn’t such a great pitch.

Here’s an interesting fact about the CERB: by the government of Canada’s own definition, a household in which both members of a couple were collecting the benefit would be right around LICO, the Low Income Cut-Off, a.k.a. the poverty line.

As far back as 2017, StatsCanada notes that median household income in Canada was up to $92,400, and was probably a bit higher this February before the virus started tanking our economy.

In other words, the typical Canadian household, a couple with or without kids, would lose about half of their total income if they both lost their jobs and had to collect CERB.

Now, of course that’s not evenly distributed! There were plenty of people – about 10 per cent of the population here in B.C. – who were at or below the LICO already.

There are, definitely, some people who are making more money collecting CERB than they were working an unstable part time or minimum wage job before this.

So what?

I am really tired of people with six and seven figure salaries complaining that people won’t work for them for peanuts, and blaming the workers for not being super-enthusiastic about that state of affairs.

I mean, I guess we could say you shouldn’t beg for government handouts. I hope we all remember that when corporations lobby for tax breaks, grants, and massive industry-wide bailouts.

The subtext – sometimes just the text – of the recent rich-people-whining, is that they need a certain number of people to be poor and they need them to be scared. They need people who are so worried about paying for rent and groceries, for power and bus fare and clothes, that they’ll work for less than $24,000 a year, so that someone else can make a profit.

An economy that runs on fear and poverty is a lot worse than one where people are collecting CERB.

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