Edward Waitzer: The pandemic has exposed the precarious economic situation of many Canadian families [Globe & Mail]

Ed Waitzer - in the News

The pandemic has exposed the precarious economic situation of many Canadian families

Edward Waitzer, Chaviva Hosek & Jonathan Weisstub

Opinion contributed to the Globe and Mail / Published June 14, 2020

So much of the effort to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 has been to protect some of those most at risk – people with underlying conditions.

So it is appropriate that this unprecedented effort – shutting down whole swaths of the economy to combat the virus – has exposed other “underlying conditions” that threaten the long-term social and economic health of our country.

Over the past two months, as workplaces closed and millions of Canadians were furloughed or lost their jobs entirely, the precarious economic situation of most Canadian families has come into vivid and troubling relief:

More than half of Canadians are living paycheque to paycheque.

  • One-third of households are “asset poor.”
  • Ten million workers have no workplace retirement plans.
  • The median retirement savings of near-retirement households without pensions is only $3,000.
  • Nearly four in 10 Canadians have no retirement savings at all.
  • Household debt is hovering at an all-time high.

It hasn’t always been this way. In the 1980s, Canadians routinely set aside 20 per cent of their income for large household purchases, education, starting businesses, retirement or just plain rainy days. Having a savings nest egg was accepted wisdom and the norm. What has changed is the nature of employment. More than a third of today’s work force is precariously employed – working on contract, self-employed, or in part-time (often involuntarily) or temporary jobs in the gig economy.

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