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Mario Canseco: B.C. households still struggling to recover from pandemic

Rising housing costs cloud B.C.'s pandemic recovery.
New polling shows that since the start of the pandemic, most British Columbians say prices have increased for three crucial necessities: Groceries, transportation and housing.

Four years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in B.C., Research Co. and Glacier Media wanted to gauge the economic recovery of households in the province. Just under one in four British Columbians (23 per cent, up two points since December 2022) tell us that their financial situation is better now than before the pandemic, while a third (33 per cent, unchanged) report no variation.

This leaves two in five British Columbians (40 per cent, down five points) who say their economic standing is worse now than before COVID-19. The situation is especially harsh for middle-aged residents, with almost half of respondents aged 35 to 54 (48 per cent) saying that their financial situation is worse now than four years ago.

In an election year, economic struggles are not universal across the province. Fewer than two in five residents of Metro Vancouver (39 per cent) and Vancouver Island (38 per cent) say their household is in a more precarious situation now than before the pandemic. The proportions are higher in three regions where the BC Liberals used to do well, and where BC United or the BC Conservatives could establish an emotional connection with voters in October: Northern B.C. (43 per cent), the Fraser Valley (45 per cent) and Southern B.C. (46 per cent).

Since the start of the pandemic, most British Columbians say prices have increased for three crucial necessities: Groceries (78 per cent, down five points), transportation (67 per cent, down six points) and housing (57 per cent, up eight points). In two of these categories—groceries and transportation—most respondents on all income levels are noticing the costs.

Even our time to relax and unwind can be affected by affordability. Almost half of British Columbians (49 per cent, down one point) are paying more for electronic entertainment, while fewer report higher expenditures on books (27 per cent, up six points), newspapers and magazines (25 per cent, up nine points) and board games (18 per cent, up five points).

Almost half of British Columbians (48 per cent, unchanged) say it is “very difficult” or “moderately difficult” to pay for necessities or “make ends meet” at the present time. Majorities feel the same way about having money for leisure (59 per cent, down seven points) and saving money for retirement or a rainy day (65 per cent, down six points).

Once again, the views of British Columbians aged 35 to 54 merit a closer look. This is a demographic that is in the middle of their careers, supposed to be moving up the ladder and beginning a process to prepare for retirement. Practically three in five (58 per cent) say it is hard to make ends meet, and more than seven in ten feel allocating money for leisure (71 per cent) or savings (74 per cent) is currently difficult.

The survey outlines some progress on specific indicators. The proportion of British Columbians whose purchasing power has not returned to 2019 levels has dropped, along with the number of those who say it is complicated to spend and save money.

Still, majorities of residents are not particularly buoyant about the current state of affairs. Making ends meet remains as hard now as it was at the end of 2022. While our perceptions abouts the costs of groceries and transportation have become slightly better, they are accompanied by an extreme jump in the proportion of British Columbians who say housing has become more expensive.

The current situation may remind some of what transpired 15 years ago. The B.C. economy is not nearly as dire as it was in 2009, when voters stuck with the party that was in power. Affordability will nonetheless become a theme in this year’s provincial campaign. The governing party can steer policy to foster recovery, particularly for the many middle-aged residents who feel left out. The opposition must present an alternative that courts these residents who are juggling jobs, young children and elderly parents. In 2009, the numbers barely moved after voters assessed these two contrasting visions. We will find out in October if the outcome is similar in 2024.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted on March 4-6 among 800 adults in B.C. 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.