Jennifer Newman: Growing income inequality could be tough on workers in 2017

[The crapification of Canadian labour. As Canada's wage gap continues to widen, and the quality of jobs goes on dropping, 2017 could be tough year on low-income earners. *RON*]

CBC News, 7 January 2017

Many groups have called for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour as a way to fight income inequality between the sexes. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
 Jennifer Newman: Growing income inequality could be tough on workers in 2017 6:09

2016 was a tough year for Canadian workers.

According to a recent report from CIBC, the quality of employment for Canadians continued to fall throughout the year, while the gap in wages between low and high-income earners grew.
Job quality falling as wage gap grows for 61% of Canadians, CIBC finds
Job quality in Canada at 25-year low, says CIBC

According to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman, the disparity puts significant financial and psychological strain on Canadian workers.

She joined host Rick Cluff on CBC's The Early Edition to discuss some of the hurdles workers can expect in 2017 and how to alleviate some of the stress.

Workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman says income inequality needs to be addressed appropriately by the federal and provincial governments. (Jennifer Newman)

Rick Cluff: What are the implications of growing income inequality in B.C. and Canada?

Jennifer Newman: Income disparity occurs when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer — and as the gap grows, it can impact worker well-being.

Researchers in the U.S. are now reporting income inequality divides communities. People trust each other less, there's more emphasis on keeping up with the Joneses, resulting in an increase in feelings of alienation and isolation.

Income inequality is associated with reduced physical and mental health, increases in drug abuse and violence and decreases in child well-being.

At the same time, we are hearing how workers are gearing-up for multiple jobs in their lifetimes, how does that factor in?

We are seeing increases in job insecurity which comes in multiple forms, such as having to quickly re-tool. Because your position becomes redundant or obsolete, or weathering threats of layoff.

And there's the problem of precarious employment — precarious employment is uncertain work.

It's poorly paid, casual and part-time. So, even if you hold more than one of these kinds of jobs, it can be hard to make ends meet.

And there is an over-representation of women in these jobs as well.

What are the effects on workers of job insecurity?

There is an increase in burn-out — specifically, emotional exhaustion.

Workers feel drained and depleted. They start to dread what's ahead in their work day. They experience insomnia.

They can have physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations and shortness of breath, they may suffer from anxiety and depression or have difficulty concentrating and finishing their work.

You'll see increases in cynicism. Workers feel less enjoyment in life and they are pessimistic and tend to isolate themselves.

When problems like income inequality and job insecurity combine, what can happen?

It creates the perfect psychological storm — a big gap between rich and poor makes the effects of job insecurity worse.

We find ourselves less trusting as a community. Workers may feel more frustrated, angry and resentful. And this can increase our tendency to direct our anger at each other.

What suggestions do you have as we go into 2017 to offset some of these effects?

It's a bit of a warning sign for us. The U.S. is seeing this situation deepen and worsen, according to researchers.

Here, we have an opportunity to learn and perhaps take some action to offset these effects.

First, we need to look at income inequality and address it — one glaring example is the disparity in pay between men and women.

As well, focusing now on bundling a good education with quality employment and excellent health, child and elder-care is key.

Psychologically and financially, we know this kind of bundling brings benefits, like a better income and housing, higher education levels, better health, nutrition and social status.

What can be done by workers themselves?

Individually, we can recognize when we live in a place where there are big differences between haves and have-nots.

We are at risk for alienation and isolation from one another.

And, if workers are precariously employed, it's important to be aware of the increase in emotional exhaustion and burn-out this can bring.

So, watch out for blaming yourself or becoming cynical, because it's not an individual worker problem alone.

Resisting isolation, aggressiveness and cynicism is a personal, community and workplace battle.

Canada and B.C. are well-equipped and well-placed to grapple with this unfortunate combination of economic, political, societal and psychological forces this year.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Jennifer Newman: Growing income inequality could be tough on workers in 2017


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