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Neoliberalism, youth poverty and washing windshields, an ethnographic study of squeegeeing in Toronto

by Esmonde, Jackie

Abstract (Summary)
Squeegeersstand as stark symbols of neoliberal economic testructuring. The changing workforce, marked by casualized Labour, has resulted inthe dramatic decrease in average incomes during the past two decades. Cuts to eligibility and benefits in Ontario's welf'e system, govemment withdrawal from social housing, and changes to the unemployment insurance structure, all guided by neoliberal ideology, have left young people, particdarly those in the 15 to 24 age bracket, with few options other than dependence on family members. Those who cannot rely on their families to support them, those fiom very poor or abusive homes, are forced to sustain themselves through the underground economy. Squeegeers have twned to the 'kork" of squeegeeing. Squeegeeing is a creative adaptation to dire poverty and desperation, in which young people mimic the language of the se~ce sector to legitimize their SurYival strategies. This solution is far fiom adequate, as squeegeeing cm only provide for the barest subsistence. Thus Squeegecrs create homes for themselves on the Street, which are ofien as violent and desperate as the homes which they leR Despite the clear links between economic restructuring and growing poverty, Squeegeers were the subjects of intense public scrutiny and anger throughout the summer of 1998. The dominant discourse described Squeegeersas irresponsible, middle class teenagers who have chosen stnet We, completely divorcing the issue of youth homelessness hm issuesof youth poverty. This is part of a broader, historiai tradition which has divided poor people into racialized categoriesof deserving and undeservllig poor. These divisions are maintained by the state through social policy. This thesis ethnographicallyexplores the case of Squeegeers in Toronto. 1 situate Squeegeersin the context of much larger trends of politid and economic restnicturing and argue that policy approaches which attempt to solve the "behavioural"problems of individual Squeegeers will not be successfid inremoving Squeegeers fiom sûeetcomers. The central focus of the thesis is to demonstrate how squeegeeing has emerged as a response to structural youth unemployment and underemployment, within the hmework of neoliberai economic restructu~g in a Canadian urban context.
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Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:01/01/1999

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