I was dismayed by the comments of two women on CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning recently. The program deserves credit for planning throughout the week to deal with issues of stress and the fact that most people don’t have enough hours in the day to deal with important, often crucial, matters.
The two women were picked at random on the streets of downtown Toronto. They told the CBC horrendous stories about how difficult their lives are – from being unable to meet the needs of their children, to too much stress at work, not enough money for childcare, and having no time to themselves.
How serious is the problem? A poll conducted for the Heart and Stroke Foundation revealed that half those interviewed were unhealthy because of their lifestyle:
- 44% of respondents said they had no time for regular physical activity.
- 41% said healthy meals take too long to prepare.
- More than half (51%) said fast food outlets don’t have enough healthy choices.
- And almost a third (31%) said the time they would like to spend being active they instead spend commuting.
These findings are of interest to the folks at Heart and Stroke because heart disease and stroke kills one in three Canadians and is the leading killer of women.
The two women interviewed by the CBC felt it was their fault that they couldn’t manage their lives better. Unfortunately, Canadians are poorly informed when it comes to understanding the big economic and political picture. So it probably would never cross their minds that the real issue is the economic system we’re now living under.
Wait for it, and don’t be afraid: The problem is the out-of-control form of heartless capitalism we live under.
Back in the 1960s and 70s we had what might be called “benevolent capitalism.” Money was more equally distributed than now. Most corporations felt they had an obligation to pay their taxes – well, at least part of their taxes. Both a university education and housing were cheaper. Powerful business and political leaders began to dramatically change the political-economic system in many Western countries in the early 1980s. A package of policies known as neo-liberalism – never before tested – was undemocratically imposed upon us.
A major component of the system, trickle-down economics filled the pockets of the rich and corporations with billions in cash. The incomes of ordinary folks began to stagnate.
The impact of those changes some 35 years ago on most people is well documented. Both the rich and corporations now pay less in taxes. Many social service programs have been gutted. When governments didn’t have enough money to run the system because of the tax breaks for the rich, they imposed austerity on the rest of us. Unions were bashed into submission. Mainstream media succumbed to the powers of the corporate world.
While the wealthy made huge gains in their income, real minimum wages in Canada basically haven’t budged from almost four decades ago.
According to Statistics Canada, the average minimum wage in Canada was $10.14 an hour in 2013. And when you translate the 1975 equivalent into 2013 dollars, it was “almost identical” at $10.13.
The biggest study in recent years on the workplace was carried out by the National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada in 2012. It found out that almost two-thirds of Canadians were working more than 45 hours a week – 50-per-cent more than two decades earlier. Work weeks were more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third over the previous 10 years.
One consequence of both workplace and home stress is an increase in both serious short-term and long-term disability claims. Dr. Kevin Kelloway, Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health Psychology, says that almost all of the work insurance providers with whom has dealt with report that between 30 and 40 per cent of their claims are related to occupational stress via mental health or heart conditions.
If Canadians were better informed by a comprehensive education system and a socially responsible mass media, the two women interviewed by the CBC would understand that they and millions of other stressed-out people are not primarily responsible for the near chaos in their lives. We are told by mass media that if we end in a crisis situation, it’s our own fault and we need to buckle down and fix our problems.
But what is really to blame is a system that squeezes us more and more year after year.