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Mario Canseco: Significantly more B.C. families are struggling to make ends meet

These are not indicators of a province where families are thriving, writes Mario Canseco.
Earlier this month, 57 per cent of parents told Research Co. and Glacier Media that it is currently “very difficult” or “moderately difficult” to make ends meet

The start of the school year offers a unique opportunity to gauge the state of families in B.C. 

For almost three in 10 British Columbians (29 per cent), housing, homelessness and poverty is the most important issue facing Canada. Health care (21 per cent) and the economy and jobs (18 per cent) round up the top three concerns. For parents of children under the age of 18, the issue landscape can be vastly different.

Earlier this month, 57 per cent of parents told Research Co. and Glacier Media that it is currently “very difficult” or “moderately difficult” to make ends meet, up 17 points since our previous survey conducted in February 2022. Just over two in five parents (42 per cent, down 16 points) believe this undertaking is “very easy” or “moderately easy.”

No region of the province is immune to the economic struggles of parents. More than half of those interviewed in Northern B.C. (66 per cent), the Fraser Valley (62 per cent), Southern B.C. (58 per cent) and Metro Vancouver (55 per cent) are finding it tough to make ends meet, along with 49 per cent of those who reside on Vancouver Island.

In 2022, the biggest source of stress for families was housing. At the time, 58 per cent of parents told us that they worried “frequently” or “occasionally” about finding a place to live or paying mortgage or rent. This year, this level of tension has dropped to 47 per cent. While this may be regarded as a positive sign, the rest of the findings are considerably grimmer.

The post-pandemic return to office life is having an effect on parents. Practically two-thirds (65 per cent) are experiencing work-related stress, up 28 points in a year and a half. We also see significant increases in the proportion of parents going through financial stress (67 per cent, up 19 points) and family-related stress (66 per cent, up 19 points).

There is a significant gender gap on some of these categories. Moms in B.C. are more likely to be concerned “frequently” or “occasionally” about the cost of groceries and gas (55 per cent) than dads (42 per cent).

Parents who are paying for child care are twice as likely to admit that covering costs is a struggle (19 per cent claim it is easy, 39 per cent say it is hard, and the rest are not sure or no longer require this service).

Across the province, 51 per cent of parents say it is easy to pay for transportation (down six points), and 42 per cent feel the same way about paying for day-to-day expenses (down 12 points). These are not indicators of a province where families are thriving.

In 2022, almost two in five parents in B.C. (38 per cent) told us it was easy to save money in a bank account. The proportion has halved to just 19 per cent this year. Put differently, just under one in five parents who will soon be facing additional expenditures – such as the post-secondary education of their children – are struggling to set money aside.

This year, a majority of parents (52 per cent) think it is likely that their child (or any one of their children) will have to move away from the municipality where they currently live due to the high cost of living, up three points since 2022. The jump certainly suggests that parents are aware of how difficult it will be for their kids to settle a few blocks down the road. 

The concept of “working families” has been used repeatedly by parties on the left and the right to sell the idea of a better future. The next provincial election is tentatively scheduled for October 2024. This leaves just over a year for the provincial government, and the Opposition, to develop plans that seek to establish an emotional connection with parents across B.C. Right now, not everybody is having a good time.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from Sept. 4-6 among 619 adult parents of children aged 0 to 18 in Metro Vancouver. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Metro Vancouver. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.