Can a basic income help Thunder Bay residents?


Thunder Bay residents are eagerly awaiting this week’s announcement of how the provincial government will roll out the Basic Income Pilot Project in their community.

On April 24, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that 4,000 people — in the Hamilton area (which includes Brantford and Brant County), Lindsay, and Thunder Bay — will participate in the first basic income study undertaken by a Canadian government since the Dauphin, Manitoba, experiment finished in 1979.

Under the terms of the pilot, people with low incomes will receive regular payments from the government in place of the social assistance programs to which they’re eligible now. Supporters believe it will be easier for the government to administer than the current system and will help impoverished citizens out by giving them more financial stability.

Even if Thunder Bay were to receive all 4,000 basic income allocations, it wouldn’t cover half the people currently receiving social assistance in the district (which encompasses Thunder Bay and several other municipalities) whose economy has been redefined by the decline of manufacturing.

Thunder Bay has experienced little to no GDP growth since 2002. Its median income has risen faster than the national average over that time, but this statistic hides that deindustrialization has changed the employment market, resulting in greater income inequality.

The city’s manufacturing output has fallen 40 per cent since the 1980s. Back then, the Port of Thunder Bay employed 2,000 people; today it directly employs just 200 workers.  Forestry and mining were once the city’s economic engines, but they now employ less than 3 per cent of the workforce combined. Broad economic stagnation combined with the decline in well-paying manufacturing jobs have also limited entrepreneurship.

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