Rising costs burden families: report

VITAL SIGNS: Cost of living a bigger concern for Greater Victorians than homelessness, new survey suggests

Beth O’Shea

In the evenings, Melissa O’Shea and her husband Keith sometimes play rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets to make a stack of sandwiches for the family to bring to school and work the next day.

For a growing family – the O’Sheas adopted their niece two years ago – the price of groceries is a growing concern. The family of five spends more than $1,000 a month on food.

Melissa has noticed the price of everything at the grocery store going up and it means that sometimes she has to choose the sale items, even if they’re not the healthiest choice on the shelf.

The cost of living is a growing concern for Greater Victorians.

For for the past four years, the homelessness issue pressed most heavily on our hearts and minds. This year, the cost of living took the No. 1 spot.

The finding comes out of the Victoria Foundation’s 2011 Vital Signs report, released yesterday.

“We’re in this new age of volatility,” said Sandra Richardson, CEO of the foundation.

Vital Signs provides a snapshot of how we’re doing as a region, based on statistics from local, provincial and national sources on a variety of measures. It’s also based on the Victoria Foundation’s own survey.

Of its 1,600 survey respondents, predominantly women, 42 per cent ranked cost of living as the most important issue facing Greater Victoria today. Homelessness placed second at 36 per cent. In 2010, the ranking was roughly reversed, with homelessness chosen by 47 per cent of respondents.

The stats reveal a growing proportion of people are struggling with finances.

As of 2009, there were 28,280 low-income families in Greater Victoria, a number which has been rising since 2007. Based on these low-income measures, 18.6 per cent of children under age 17 live in poverty.

Youth are also affected by the cost of living. With the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment at $806, rent is eating up 73 per cent of the average young person’s income.

“For these young folks, that’s a pretty hard start,” Richardson said.

But the rising cost of living isn’t just a concern for low-income individuals.

“More people are impacted,” Richardson said. “As you pick up the papers every day and speak to organizations, you just realize it’s the uncertainty.”

The O’Sheas both have good, steady jobs and yet they are feeling the pinch.

After groceries, child care is No. 2 on their list of expenses.

One year, the bill totalled $15,000. Now that their kids are older and more independent, they are saving $500 per month in child-minding expenses.

“I know intellectually that I’m paying less, but I don’t feel like I’m gaining anything because it seems like the cost of living is so much higher,” Melissa said. “I don’t feel like I have $500 more. … It just gets eaten up.”

Utility bills, gas prices, cable. All her bills are going up. While she received a cost-of-living increase at work, she said. It’s not keeping up to the true increases in her living costs. O’Shea calls it “a gentle squeeze.”

Thankfully, the couple bought their house 13 years ago when houses were much cheaper. And while they don’t have to make any big sacrifices, rising costs means they have to be prudent.

Their 1,600-square-foot house in Oaklands makes for cramped living, “but because of what the housing situation is, we can’t contemplate changing.” They sacrificed their garage to make a fourth bedroom.

“No we have no storage, anywhere.”

 

Stats roundup

Here are the highlights from this year’s Vital Signs report:

Environment: 86 per cent of Greater Victorians drink tap water, compared with 73 per cent of British Columbians and 66 per cent of Canadians.

Culture: Between 2005 and 2010, the number of people who attended a popular music concert during the year jumped from 30 per cent to 55 per cent.

Economy: In Victoria, unemployment rate is on the decline: it reached 6.0 per cent in 2010, down from 6.4 in 2009. In 2008, it was at 3.3 per cent.

• Children: On Southern Vancouver Island, 279

Aboriginal children were in government care as of

January 2010, representing 40 per cent of children in care.

• Quality of life: Nearly a quarter of Southern Vancouver Island residents reported “quite a lot of stress on most days,” in 2010, up from 18 per cent in 2009.

Housing: The vacancy rate dropped to 2.0 per cent as of April 2011, down from 3.1 per cent in April 2010.

Read the whole report online by visiting www.victoriafoundation.bc.ca, and click Victoria’s Vital Signs.

 

 

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