This column appeared in the Burlington Post on September 26, 2012 and is available online at http://www.insidehalton.com/opinion/columns/article/1508490–a-good-place-to-start
September, 26, 2012
Many of us have heard the story unfolding in the US election campaign about Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney referring to 47% of the US population as receiving some form of social assistance and government entitlements. In a speech to a small group of loyal supporters he commented that this group made no contributions to society. Regardless of who wins the US election, a significant portion of the country will vote for Mitt Romney and his party.
While we in Burlington are not directly affected by the outcome of the American election, and while we are all entitled to our own ideological views, the lack of empathy in this story is a real concern for me. It reflects a lack of empathy or compassion that has developed in our society and our own community as well.
The make-up of society is always changing. Changes in our economy and demographics generate much of this change as the ebbs and flows create different circumstances. The gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is alarming.
As an example, my generation was able to go to university and fund their education in a reasonable way. A summer job could pay tuition and books. Today, most young people do not have the same opportunity. Tuition rates are through the roof and young people borrow tens of thousands of dollars to get the education that we desperately need them to acquire to be a competitive society.
The province is under tremendous pressure to restructure financially. Healthcare and social services are under pressure. There are significant outstanding liabilities for pensions and infrastructure. If we do not deal with these challenges, we will be passing on to our children a society in worse shape than when it was handed to us, leaving bills to be paid.
On the employment front, we are struggling to see the job generation that we need. It is difficult to pay off student loans at minimum wage, never mind becoming part of the active economy.
In Burlington, as I say repeatedly, we live in the second best place to live in Canada, according to Money Sense Magazine. That does not mean it is the best place to live for everyone. We continue to have a poverty rate of 9-10% in our community.
Burlington is faced with the same social challenges of any other city: mental health, addiction, violence against women, gender equity, unemployment, underemployment, affordable housing, youth and immigrant opportunities, support for those with disabilities, and many others.
Many try and help, whether it is financially or through volunteerism. We have many non-profit organizations that do excellent work to try to make a difference.
We can all contribute by being empathetic. Remember that there are many in our community that need support – your neighbours, colleagues, friends at school and family members. Showing empathy for others is a good place to start.