Sat. May 25th, 2024

New federal data show a quarter of Canadians are struggling to make ends meet, and though pressure is easing gradually from a peak at the end of last year, Prairie provinces and marginalized communities nationwide are facing the worst of it.

The figures come from the latest results of the Canadian Social Survey, a quarterly study by Statistics Canada that tracks key quality-of-life indicators across the country. Survey participants were asked to rate the difficulty that their households faced in meeting their financial needs in the past year, and the results show widespread challenges in doing so.

Nationwide, 26.8 per cent of Canadians reported that meeting financial needs had been difficult or very difficult in the 12 months prior, up from 24.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2022 and after a peak of 34.8 per cent at the end of last year — the highest recorded since data was first collected in 2021.

Recent analysis from TD Bank describes cooling inflationary pressures across G7 countries since 2022, but warns that in Canada, slowing wage growth and increasing unemployment could come in the near future.

“Inflation remains top of mind for Canadians. Substantial progress has been made … but the last mile of the journey is likely to be the toughest,” the analysis read.

Though financial strain appears to be lessening nationwide, a Bank of Canada survey conducted in August and September found that “many consumers believe the impacts of higher interest rates on their household spending are far from done.”

Year-on-year, pocket-book challenges rise in the West and set in the East

Trends in household financial difficulties vary by province.

While rates of difficulty in the Altantic and Prairie regions were neck-and-neck at the end of last year, with 38.1 and 38.4 per cent, respectively, easing has been slower in Western Canada, creating a gap of nearly five percentage points, the data shows.

Between the second quarters of 2022 and 2023, the proportion of struggling households dropped to 29.3 per cent in New Brunswick, 25.6 per cent in P.E.I. and 25.4 per cent in Nova Scotia. Newfoundland, where the largest proportion of residents faced difficulties this time last year, saw a drop to 28.2 from 34.2 per cent.

Meanwhile, those same challenges have grown year-on-year across Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia, with Alberta taking the new top spot for household financial difficulties at an estimated 33.6 per cent of residents.

Province-level analysis by TD cites severe wildfires and a drop in oil production as influencing Alberta’s economy this year, balanced against robust growth in population and jobs. Population growth was also a highlight in Nova Scotia, where “record-breaking” rates support the bank’s expectation of above-average performance across Canadian economies.

As of last quarter, Manitoba ranks fourth among Canadian provinces for household financial difficulties, with an estimated 28.5 per cent of residents reporting difficult or very difficult experiences meeting their needs in the year prior.

In an interview earlier this month, newly elected Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew told CTV News that alongside healthcare, affordability is a top priority. Kinew’s campaign promises include a one-year freeze on provincial hydro rates, a new $700 tax credit for renters and a cut to the ¢14-per-litre tax on gasoline and diesel “while inflation remains high,” CTV News reports.

“Manitoba did something more progressive than any of those big cities ever did,” Kinew said in his Oct. 3 victory speech. “We elected a strong team of New Democrats to fix healthcare and make your life more affordable.”

Steepest challenges faced by marginalized communities

Nationwide, the prevalence of financial difficulties varied by age group, immigration status and Indigenous identity, among other factors.

In the second quarter of 2023, 26.8 per cent of surveyed Canadians reported that their household needs were difficult or very difficult to meet financially, but that proportion totalled approximately 30 per cent among immigrants to Canada, 33 per cent among adults aged 25 to 54 and 35 per cent among Canadians living with a disability, health-related difficulty or long-term condition.

Indigenous respondents to the survey living off-reserve reported the highest proportion of household financial challenges among demographic groups, with a striking 43.6 per cent finding it difficult or very difficult to meet their needs.

Joel Abram, Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, told in an interview that a variety of factors contribute to the disparity, from housing shortages on reserves that push residents into unaffordable communities elsewhere, to the lasting impacts of historical trauma.

“Residential schools sound like they were a long time ago, but they really weren’t,” Chief Abram said. “Kids who were adopted out, and didn’t have that family unit growing up, they tend to have worse long-term consequences in terms of their economic opportunities.”

In a speech last spring, out-going deputy governor for the Bank of Canada Lawrence Schembri highlighted the wealth of opportunity and weight of responsibility presented by economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities, where both population and employment growth far outpace those of Canada as a whole.

“I don’t mean to gloss over the many challenges that continue to hinder Indigenous prosperity,” he said. “This potential will only be realized when private firms and public agencies commit to economic reconciliation.”

To Chief Abram, that kind of potential is realized through investments in housing, vocational training and finance.

“There’s a lot of roadblocks and barriers right now for them to participate in those kinds of sectors … I think there’s a lot of opportunities for that economic reconciliation,” Abram said. “ That’s something a lot of First Nations people are really trying to do, is to get their bag, so to speak, right? And to become part of the economic resurgence.”

Edited by producer Phil Hahn

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