Mario Canseco: British Columbians struggling to recover financial health in wake of pandemic - The Orca
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Mario Canseco: British Columbians struggling to recover financial health in wake of pandemic

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Three years ago, initial reports about a virus affecting residents of China began to make their way into the North American airwaves. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been far-reaching, even as most of the world now carries on without restrictions and lockdowns.

Last month, British Columbia was ranked as the best performer among the four most populous Canadian provinces when it came to managing the pandemic. More than two-thirds of the province’s residents (68 per cent) remain content with how COVID-19 was handled.

Establishing an emotional connection with constituents in the post-pandemic era brings significant complexities to the provincial government. Health care is climbing as an issue for British Columbians aged 55 and over, while those aged 18 to 34 are overly concerned about housing, homelessness and poverty.

While unemployment rates and inflation are regarded as good barometers of economic conditions in a country and province, they do not consider the actual experience of residents who can gauge how far their paycheque goes. When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked British Columbians about the financial situation of their households, we found a province where a significant proportion of residents are struggling.

Only 21 per cent of British Columbians say their household’s financial situation is better now than before the pandemic, unchanged since our March survey. One-third (33 per cent, down nine points) report no change in their status. This leaves 44 per cent of British Columbians (up 11 points) who say their household does not have as much capital as it did before COVID-19.

The year 2022 was supposed to be about economic recovery, but the proportion of British Columbians who cannot return to what they had before COVID-19 has increased by double digits since March. Particularly troubling is the fact that 15 per cent of the province’s residents say their financial situation is “significantly worse” now than before the pandemic, up five points.

British Columbians point to four specific disbursements that are taking a toll on their budget. More than four in five of the province’s residents (83 per cent, up eight points since March) say their grocery expenses are higher now than before COVID-19.

Almost three in five of the province’s residents (73 per cent, up 19 points) say they are spending more now on transportation, such as fuel for vehicles, transit passes or taxis. A return to usual commuting habits for those who spent most of the pandemic working from home might be playing a role in this fluctuation.

Almost half of British Columbians (49 per cent) report paying more for housing, such as rent or mortgage. This indicator is up by five points since March and encompasses majorities of residents of Vancouver Island (56 per cent) and northern B.C. (51 per cent).

There is also a slight increase in the perception that prices for electronic entertainment, such as cable television or streaming services, have increased (48 per cent, up two points).

With so many British Columbians reporting higher prices, it is not a surprise to see that perceptions on the present and future have grown bleaker over the past nine months. Almost half of the province’s residents (48 per cent, up five points since March) say that it is “very difficult” or “moderately difficult” to pay for necessities or “make ends meet”.

For two-thirds of British Columbians (66 per cent, up 10 points), it is now more complicated to have money for leisure, such as dining out or entertainment – a proportion that rises to 71 per cent among those aged 18 to 34.

Finally, just over seven in 10 of the province’s residents (71 per cent, up seven points) believe it is currently difficult to save money, either for retirement or for a “rainy day.” This issue is affecting British Columbians aged 35 to 54 the most (77 per cent), precisely the generation that should be figuring out a way to allocate funds for their post-work years.

Eight months after most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, many households in British Columbia remain unable to return to their previous situation. Since March, the members of this group have increased. Even if issues such as interest rates and global strife are outside of the provincial government’s control, the public will look at alternatives on all matters if and when a provincial election is called. To the previously identified concerns about health care from baby boomers and housing from millennials, we now have to add the economic uncertainty voiced by generation X.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted on December 27 to December 29, 2022, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.