You’re better off than you think

Guest Editorial; by Roslyn Kuni, Troy Media - You’re better off than you think

Would you want to live in a place where the average person is getting richer, poor people are fewer, crime is disappearing, prospects are improving for your health, and you may even be getting younger? You may already live in such a place.

Amid all the media coverage of wars, accidents, tragedies, evils and general miseries; a careful search reveals that a lot of good things are happening in Canada in general and in B.C. in particular, but they aren’t always the lead story.

First, you may not feel that you are getting richer; but if you are a member of a typical Canadian household your net worth at the end of last year was 5.8 per cent higher than a year earlier or over $400,000. This is both higher and growing faster than the wealth of American families even with their higher incomes. Why don’t I feel richer, you may ask and why is everyone saying that Canadians have too much debt? The Canadian increase in assets has come, for the most part, from increased equity in houses. And, yes, we do have lots of debt and it is still growing, but not as fast as our assets. So this improvement may not be like winning the lottery, but it is much better than seeing the value of our homes and our net worth fall.

The poor, as the bible reminds us, are always with us. One reason for this is statistical. Unless every person has exactly the same income, there is always going to be a bottom 10 per cent, a bottom 50 per cent etc., something past U.S. president Lyndon Johnson did not recognize when he complained that 50 per cent of Americans had a below average standard of living. Low income people at one time may well have what would be considered a very rich life style compared to other places and times.

Statistics Canada uses a variable Low Income Cut Off (LICO) that considers family size, city and the rising costs and standards of living in Canada. Even with a rising cut off line, the proportion of Canadians below the line is now lower than it has been since statistics were collected; 8.8 per cent; down from 9 per cent last year.

We can now feel safer as well as richer. In spite of the many murder mystery novels we read and the endless cop shows on TV, the crime rate has been falling dramatically. In British Columbia over the last 10 years, property crime has fallen by almost half (46 per cent) and violent crime by over a quarter (27 per cent). This is true not just in B.C., but also across Canada, the U.S., and throughout Europe.

In his popular book,Freakenomics, Steven D. Levitt tried to explain a falling crime rate by increased access to abortion, on the premise that fewer unwanted children lead to fewer criminals. Alas, this dramatic conclusion does not hold up as the crime rate continues to drop where and when there has been no change in access to abortion. Demographics (fewer young men who commit most of the crime) also do not explain the decline. Crime rates continue to fall even when the number of young men is steady. Perhaps we should look to technology. Cars are now harder to steal whether for joy rides or as get-away vehicles. Police have computers for records and communication. DNA is now traceable. In the ongoing battle between cops and robbers, the cops are winning.

We turn to U.S. data for indications that health is improving. It comes disguised as bad business news. Sales of soda pop are falling. First, we do not need to feel sorry for the soft drink companies. They have long been diversifying into juices and are happily and profitably selling us bottled water. However, cutting back on soft drinks can only improve our health and it may already be working.

One indicator of health is life expectancy and ours is rising. A 35 year old now can expect to live about nine years longer that a 35 year old in the 1950’s and a 65 year old, about six years more. So if you think you are 65 years old, you are really only 59 compared to previous generation. You may not retire as soon as you would like, but you will still enjoy more leisure than earlier workers. In the 1960’s, people worked five years for every year of retirement. Today, people in the private sector work only 1.5 years for each retired year and if you are in government sector, the ratio is one to one.