Poverty in Richmond is a problem and it’s been well documented. As the city approaches a municipal election, many ponder whether poverty in Richmond will be an election issue. Many Richmondites were concerned that it should’ve been in the last election back in 2011.
How Bad Has It Gotten?
According to the Richmond School Board, Richmond has the second highest poverty rate (amongst cities) in Canada at 22%. Families are affected and especially children.
How Severe Is Poverty In Richmond For Children?
According to a report by Richmond Children First, 1 in 4 Richmond children live in poverty. 2005 census data indicated that roughly the same amount (26%) of children live in poverty.
In terms of demographics, Richmond is culturally diverse. Well over 60% of Richmondites are of a visible minority and 44% are Chinese. This means more foreigners and likely, more people don’t have as strong a command of the English language as those who have had generations living in Canada. The Richmond School Board wants to improve literacy rates as a means for tackling poverty in Richmond. They have a District Literacy Plan available on their website.
I agree that improved literacy rates are great for society as they help improve learning skills and better test scores which can translate to better individual outcomes in higher education and in the job market. However, this has to be supplemented by sufficient increases in funding for skills training. In my view, we can tackle poverty in Richmond by addressing our failing education system and equipping students with skills in need for the future.
What Are The Causes?
In my view, there are a number of factors that result in more poverty in Richmond and they more or less have to do with access to education and skills training:
- Many immigrants and immigrant families don’t have skills fit for or education recognized in British Columbia. I personally met a middle-aged man who had a wealth of education and some job experience in the Software development industry in India. He immigrated here but employers would not take him on unless he had education from a recognized BC institution. So he worked what he called a “survival job” at a gas station for income to live on. I advised him to check out BCIT as they have a wealth of programs with flexible class times for people with varying schedules. The problem is that many don’t know where to look for this information when they come fresh into a country.
- Students aren’t exposed to the options for post-secondary education and skills development. I find many students these days leave high school with an increasingly vague idea of what they actually want to do career-wise. This is completely normal. Students aren’t overly exposed to what the world has to offer – many want to continue with education, others want to work and build an income base while others take the opportunity to travel. All of those options are no better than the other. But many students blindly go to an educational institution without a relative idea of what they want to do. They go through a degree – some switch majors, some complete degrees and switch career paths altogether. The result is a massive pile of student debt which takes years to pay off. These are years of income accumulation that aren’t spent on investing in their own financial future (i.e. mortgage, property, business, etc).
- Students simply can’t afford or can’t get into the big universities like the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria. I don’t see this as a colossal problem because there are plenty of lower cost alternatives. But students are still hurting. Many are mounting up high debt from having to move out of Richmond plus tuition and books. The economy is still fragile and has not been creating more jobs than it loses. This means that quality of part-time work available to students while they attend school is not as good. So this first part is a macro problem. Furthermore, there is this idea that going to one of the big universities means your future will be prosperous – it’ll open up more opportunities for you to learn and following your degree, work. I disagree with this notion. Firstly, the alternatives – which entail going to colleges, doing specialty programs, learning trades and doing university transfer degrees – can get students just as far as a 4 year degree at a big university. Secondly, a big university education may not help you develop the skills you need for your career like a smaller program or college might. That really depends on the institution.
How Can We Combat Poverty In Richmond?
So how do we address poverty in Richmond? What are the solutions to these problems? Well there are a number of things that can be done at all levels of government. Here’s what I think can and should be done to reduce short and long-term poverty in Richmond:
- Increase public and private funding for bursaries, grants and scholarships for post-secondary education so that families don’t have to work extra hard to get their child started.
- Create job opportunities WITHIN secondary schools. Give students the ability to earn income while they study by outsourcing easy jobs like working in the admin office, library, etc. This is where students can gain useful basic skills so they don’t have to waste time learning these elsewhere.
- Introduce and emphasize post-secondary options much earlier to students. While students are introduced to their options in Grade 10, not much is made of this. The culture of procrastination leaves post-secondary planning until Grade 12. Emphasizing it early would be monumental. Have workshops, field trips to work sites, case study guest speakers and anything else to give students a strong idea of what they can do and how they can impact the world.
- Give secondary students a taste of the options that are out there for them after graduation. Require every student to be in a work experience program (if the school has such). Currently, these are just electives. I think these should be diversified, intensified and mandated. This would help address one of the causes of poverty
- If Richmond can lure one of the big universities to open up a campus in the city, that would be a big draw. I think selling this idea to a university would be relatively simple. With an increasingly immigrant student base, out-of-province fees will be paid out. There are plenty of areas to put a small campus (rather than another big condo). The City of Richmond will already be welcoming a Trinity Western University campus to the city centre area. Once the case study on this is good, the next step should be to sell the prospects of this to UBC or SFU. Getting universities to come to Richmond would be effective for a couple reasons: 1) Students would save money from having to move away and 2) It would keep young people in Richmond, something that hasn’t been happening and is a growing epidemic. I’ll detail that in a future blog post.
Education, at all levels, is important. It’s important because we need it to further our understanding of how the world works. It’s also important because it helps people find work…find something they love…find something they care about. In my view, it’s central to addressing the poverty in Richmond issue that I’ve brought up here.
How do you think we should address poverty in Richmond? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below and if you liked this post, subscribe to my blog by filling out your email in the field near the top of this page.