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Deepening inequality and financial stress in B.C. and across Canada: poll

Canada's rising food costs, stagnant wages and debt are 'hammering' the poor, polling suggests
Money
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Financial worries are compounding for low-income households and two in five Canadians say they are worse off now than they were 12 months ago, an Angus Reid poll indicates.

It’s a bleak economic outlook, according to the pollster, and comes on the heels of data showing inflation rose to 4.8 per cent in December, a record high not seen in 30 years.

More Canadians are “struggling more than ever to endure the financial stresses of the pandemic, while others, secured by their relatively strong position of wealth, have seen their economic well-being maintained, if not improved,” the Angus Reid Institute noted in its results.

Overall, British Columbians scored close to the national average on the poll’s “economic stress index,” which pulls together people's responses on their debt, financial outlook over the next year, as well as costs of housing and food. 

According to the index, only slightly more British Columbians are “struggling” (27 per cent) compared to those who are “thriving” (24 per cent).

Leading the country, 21 per cent of B.C. residents said they were better off financially than they were a year ago. Nationwide, that number drops to 16 per cent.

But when it comes to assessing housing costs as easy, 12 per cent of Canadians agreed, compared to only eight per cent of British Columbians.

The pandemic has been more of a struggle for middle-aged people, 35- to 54-years-old. And those with low incomes are doubly challenged, the polling shows.

“For those who are Struggling, most say the second year of the pandemic has made things worse for them financially. Four-in-five (80 per cent) say their household finances are worse off than they were a year ago, while one-in-five (19 per cent) say things are about the same,” noted the pollsters.

“At the other end of the Index, half (49%) of the Thriving expect to be in the same situation with their finances one year from now, while two-in-five (43 per cent) expect it to improve.”

Debt, stagnant wages and rising food costs are the three key stress drivers.

Concerns over debt were found to be more common among lower-income households compared to higher-income earners. Over a third of households earning less than $25,000 a year said “debt is a major cause of stress.”

In March 2019 — a year before the pandemic began — 64 per cent of Canadians said it was “easy” as opposed to “difficult” to feed themselves affordably. That figure is now down to 41 per cent.

At the same time, wages are not keeping up for 82 per cent of Canadians.

Despite a rise in housing prices, which would impact first-time home-buyers or those stepping up the housing ladder, most Canadians (57 per cent) report easier or manageable housing costs. And 38 per cent report “tough” or “very difficult” conditions. Here in B.C., the provincial government has just lifted a rent raise moratorium put in place since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Housing, notes the poll, is a big source of financial anxiety in B.C.'s biggest city.

“While a majority in Vancouver (54 per cent) find their rent or mortgage manageable, they are the least likely to find it easy (5 per cent) of any major urban centre,” noted Angus Reid.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca