Canadians concerned about meeting basic needs, not optimistic about future of middle class: surveys

Ontario recorded its largest ever increase in food bank usage in the last year

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Two recent surveys have revealed mounting widespread economic concerns for Canadians, particularly among the middle class and vulnerable groups like single parents.

Pollara Strategic Insights’ class identity survey, involving 3,000 adult Canadians, showed that optimism has reached its lowest point in nine years. Less than 31 per cent of respondents said they are optimistic about the future of Canada’s middle class, marking a significant drop from 53 per cent in 2020.

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About 43 per cent of self-identified middle-class respondents reported that they are merely managing to get by without any savings, and an additional 15 per cent are struggling to keep up with monthly expenses.

The majority of respondents identified themselves as middle-class, though that definition ranged considerably. Households earning incomes higher than $150,000 considered themselves middle-class, as did households earning less than $50,000.

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Despite that range, and the fact that the percentage of Canadians who self-identify as middle-class has remained relatively consistent, there is a perception that the middle class is shrinking.

This perception may be contributing to the increasingly pessimistic outlook about the future. About 52 per cent of respondents were confident their kids could be middle-class or higher through hard work, a 27 point reduction compared to 2020.

The Salvation Army’s recently released annual report is even more troubling. It found that one in four Canadians are extremely concerned about having sufficient income to cover basic needs.

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Those concerns were particularly acute among single parents, with nearly 40 per cent expressing extreme worry about meeting essential needs. One in five Canadians reported reducing meal sizes or skipping meals altogether due to financial constraints.

The report also highlights the surge in food bank use. About 22 per cent of respondents said they visit food banks weekly, with nearly half of those being first-time users in 2023.

A November report by Feed Ontario, a collective of hunger relief organizations, found that Ontario recorded its largest single-year increase in food bank usage between April 2022 and March 2023. The number of people who use food banks in the province increased by 38 per cent, with much of that growth attributed to first-time visitors.

According to that report, food bank usage has gone up for the last seven years in a row.

“It used to be that having a job meant that you would not need to access a food bank,” Feed Ontario’s chief executive officer, Carolyn Stewart, wrote in a statement. “This is no longer the case. Working Ontarians are having trouble earning enough income to afford today’s cost of living, even when working multiple jobs or trying to cut expenses.”

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These concerns arrive at a time of unprecedented growth in Canada’s population. Canada’s population grew by more than 430,000 during the third quarter, according to Statistics Canada, marking the fastest pace of population growth in any quarter since 1957.

The country’s total population growth over the first nine months of the year has already surpassed the total growth in any other full year, including the record set in 2022.

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