The Underground Economy

I have been trying to help an old friend from moving back into the realm of criminal activity, and convincing him to keep his life on the straight and narrow. My efforts have been doubly difficult as the economy is making the search for legitimate employment more difficult for him. As our self melodious Prime Minister touts, Canada is in good economic terms compared to the rest of the world, but that is coming from a politician that wants to get re-elected. OK, if that is the case, then we are in big trouble as the Canadian economy is hurting, to use the lack of a better word. That is not going to help my friend who is on the verge of moving out onto the street.

My friend has done time in prison before. He was convicted of possession of illegal narcotics, and served less than six months, then three years on parole, where he was finally let free, back into society, basically to fend for himself. He has managed to keep himself in good shape, and has been working, earning a legitimate wage for over the last three years. His good fortune turned when he was laid off and now has been unemployed for a couple of months. He is now keeping himself going by selling what he can of his own personal belongings for cash, and feeding himself by going to the local food bank in Langley City, when he can. He will be homeless after this month, as all of his savings are almost gone.

I have taken some time study the underground economy in Canada. Partly because I did a lot of research way back when I was a second year Criminology student, writing a paper on this topic. I learned then that the public associates the underground economy with drug dealers and organized criminal gangs, while revenue Canada view it as any money where taxes have not been paid on it through profits and income. I see it as a hybrid of the two, mostly pertaining it to both organized and White Collar crime. As I gathered more statistical evidence, I found that the numbers of dollars circumvented from the tax man seem to be neck in neck with White Collar criminals as compared with the drug trade; although finding the true measure of the dollar amount will always remain a mystery as any research on criminal activity will be classified as being involved in the criminal activity itself.

For my friend, the ease, and the lure, of moving back into the illegal world of commerce has never looked so good right now for him. Based on my research, the underground economy is very much alive and well in British Columbia. Sadly, some predictions say that there could be a spike in people migrating towards the underground economy, as never seen before. As money and services start to contract, companies start cutting corners to remain competitive, or current market wages could be undermined by the cheaper available labour, citing some examples of what is happening. Under the table labour is becoming the next bastion of life for many people who are on the brink of becoming homeless in the Vancouver area. My friend is struggling with these temptations. He is down to the choice of feeding himself, or going hungry.

In his mind, if the means are available, then how be it a broken social system dare tell him what he can and cannot do to survive.  Even he knows that the resources for law enforcement are stretched so thin through under funding by all three levels of government that resources for White Collar crime is almost nonexistent, and adds to the legitimacy of doing such crimes here in Canada.

I continue to appeal to my friend, asking that he keeps on trying, searching for the legitimate job. However, I too can see the strain of his temptation to dive back into the criminal world. He told me that as of last week the crime world is the only world that is hiring! That shocked me when he said that. I guess it is true, in a sad and truthful tone.

My hope is that he can find some work soon. Like so many, our economy is collapsing, and the bottom economic strata are always the first levels to fall in times of economic hardship. His criminal record, by the way, does not seem to deter him, as he told that most of his former employers never asked. So, as he said, it is the availability of work that is at play here. The last thing I want to see is him moving into a cardboard box sleeping out in the elements somewhere in Langley City as a vagrant. So I am really hoping that he finds something soon!

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