Anglo Youth Poverty in the Eastern Townships

A scared, lonely young man, whose opportunities are limited by Covid, begins to believe that vaccines are a Chinese plot and the world is “out to get him.” Mental illness has seeped into his thoughts.

He is not alone.

By Colin McGregor

According to a université de Sherbrooke study now underway, since the pandemic began, young Anglophones “are having worse mental health outcomes, worse reactions, and less access to mental health services than their Francophone counterparts,” says Rachel Hunting, Executive Director of the Townshippers’ Association, the group representing the 40,000 people of the Eastern Townships that speak English as a first language.

These Anglo youths are more susceptible to disinformation and general stress coming out of the pandemic than are their Francophone counterparts, Hunting says based on the Sherbrooke study.

And the data from the 2016 census is clear: The unemployment rate for young Anglophones in the Townships was 13.9%, compared to 9.8% for young Francophones. It’s a gap that has held since at least 2000. Nothing has improved since 2016, says Hunting.

The Cycle of Poverty

And young Anglophone children are far less prepared for school when they reach kindergarten, says Hunting, ranking just behind kids in the Gaspé as the least prepared – a syndrome which “feeds the cycle of poverty.” There are more teen mothers among the Anglophone population, and more uneducated mothers.

Anglophone children are especially beset with problems related to low-income households.

Among very young students, Townships Anglophones in kindergarten were twice as likely to be suffering from a “vulnerability,” a developmental problem in the areas of social skills and communication (46% for Anglos, versus 25% for Francophones).  And six out of ten Anglophone school students said they’d been a victim of intimidation and bullying – at school, en route for school, or cyber-bullying.

That’s partly because social services are skewed towards senior citizens, who have “heft,” and away from the young families who could use it. The Townships Anglo population is divided into an older segment and a younger segment, with a “missing middle.” There’s a lack of daycare spots with a bilingual or English program, especially outside of the larger centres.

The Covid crisis has been especially bad for Townshippers. Those that work tend to hold down lower-paying jobs in the service sector, and they had to stop working as they were the most exposed to the virus. They couldn’t work from home.

“Covid has made all the inequalities more apparent,” says Hunting.

Rachel Hunting

Hope on the Horizon

Still, Hunting says things are slowly turning around: “There is hope on the horizon. The Francophone community realizes there is a problem.” The Director of Public Health for l’Estrie has identified problems to be addressed in the Anglophone community. And a lot of investments are being made at the federal and provincial levels, especially in terms of “leveling the playing field” for young students.

“But you can see a shift at all levels. It’s not that we’re abandoning our seniors, but we’re developing the younger demographic.”

And, “our communities get along very well when you’re not at the protocol level,” Hunting says. Outside of politics, “It’s a partnership that persists through the generations. At the political level, it gets batted down. It’s important we speak to the French-speaking community. It’s knowing people that breaks down barriers.”

Hunting says: “If you get to know the people you fear, it goes a long way.”

She adds: “Decisions are being made to deal with the problems in Montreal. But you can’t apply those same measures to the regions.”   

A report by the Director of Public Health for l’Estrie. (Responding Better to the Needs of the Linguistic and Cultural Communities, Director of Public Health for l’Estrie, September 2016) furnished some data for this article.

Young Townships Anglophones are more likely to drink sugary drinks, to have cavities, and to follow generally inadequate dietary habits than their Francophone peers.

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