Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re broke. The news is out. It’s not just the United States that can’t make ends meet. Canadian families are out of money, too.

The announcement came in the Vancouver Sun on October 19th 2011 when it was revealed that British Columbia fell behind the rest of the country in giving the age 25- 34 crowd an affordable lifestyle. According to a recent study by Paul Kershaw incomes dropped 6 percent since 1976 in British Columbia for this age group while real estate prices, to mention just one expense, increased by 149% for this same period.

 

The good news about the recent flurry of media coverage over the sinking middle class is the public revelation that our money problems and perpetual addiction to credit go way beyond just a handful of irresponsible debtors who couldn’t balance their cheque book. In fact, it isn’t addiction or some hidden personality trait that drives individuals and families into a lifetime struggle with money shortages and dependency upon credit. It’s a lack of real income, that is to say there isn’t enough income to support the real costs of raising a family.

I used to begin my workshops on money and debt management by asking the question, “Is it possible to live without credit?” 20 years ago this stimulated a healthy philosophical debate about the pros and cons of credit usage. Today, it isn’t even a question.

There are many other reasons why we can’t avoid using credit:

  • According to Tom Drake, an Edmonton-based financial analyst, the average expenses related to raising a child up to the age of 19 is $191,665.00. This does not include post secondary education. In the United States, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a child born in 2010 would be $226,920.00 (US).
  • Day care expenses challenge families tremendously to making ends meet.
  • Post secondary education costs have continuously escalated over the last 30 years draining families of disposable income and creating burdensome debt levels.
  • Transportation expenses contribute big time to financial shortages for families as the cost of gas, automobiles, maintenance and car insurance often show up on the credit card statement or line of credit. In June, 2011 CTV News reported that, when mortgage debt was combined with consumer debt, Canadians owed an all-time high of $1.5 trillion. The Certified General Accountants Association of Canada found that if household debt was spread evenly among all Canadians, a family with two children would owe an estimated $176,461.

In the present credit society consumers carry a staggering total of $479 Billion (seasonally adjusted figures for September 2011) in consumer debt. This figure excludes mortgages. This clearly shows each and every year since the 1970s, Canadians have been borrowing more and more consumer debt as the following chart shows.

Consumer Credit (excluding Mortgages)
Statistics as reported by the Bank of Canada
1975 $23-billion
1985    $58-billion
1990          $98-billion
1995 $116-billion
2000 $187-billion
2011 $479-bllion

The question today is how we get out of debt. We refers to governments and the credit industry as much as it does us, who are earning working middle and lower incomes and cannot make it without borrowing more and more every year. We need everyone at the financial table to ensure that Canadian families are a real priority of government and society.