Quebecers continue to worry about their financial health, particularly because of the increase in the price of groceries and rents, according to the most recent measure of financial anxiety by Centraide of Greater Montreal.
While the proportion (86 per cent) of people who say they have been feeling financial stress since November is just down by 1 per cent, the proportion of people experiencing moderate to extreme anxiety is two per cent higher than in previous months.
“It’s not getting any better,” said Christian Bourque, executive vice president at Léger. “When we talk about 86 per cent of Quebecers, we are talking about practically everyone or someone we know. We’re talking about a major social phenomenon.”
Single parents, people with low incomes, people without a high school diploma, people with functional limitations, women, racialized people, and newcomers are the ones who feel the most stress about their financial capacities, according to the data provided by Centraide.
“The survey shows us an almost direct relationship between people’s vulnerability factors and suffering from financial anxiety,” said Bourque.
COMPETITION FOR BASIC NEEDS
Food is the main concern of Quebecers, the survey shows, with one in five respondents (22 per cent) having experienced at least one episode of food insecurity in recent months. A higher rate than before the pandemic, underlines the organization and is observed in the various resources of food aid.
At the Service de nutrition et d’action communautaire (SNAC), located in the Ahunstic district of Montreal, the number of clients has jumped from 1,100 families helped to 1,523.
“We have 580 new families this year, which represents 38 per cent of our total clientele,” said director Chantal Comtois.
The profile of this clientele has changed, she adds.
“Previously, 90 per cent of our beneficiaries were on social assistance. Now, they account for 48 per cent of our clientele, but it’s not because there are fewer of them; it’s because our other types of clients have taken on more weight in the scale,” the director added.
Being able to afford housing is the second most important concern of respondents, half of whom believe that rental prices will continue to rise in the coming months. In addition, 23 per cent of those surveyed fear that they will not be able to pay their housing expenses.
“Nearly one in two Quebecers think that their household expenses for housing will continue to rise in the coming months,” said Claude Pinard, president and executive director of Centraide of Greater Montreal.
Many households feel caught up in inflation.
“What we’re seeing is that people are saying that their income has increased, but not enough to cover all the new expenses,” said Pinard. “It’s like a wheel that turns, like there’s competition for basic needs.
Many families are now reduced to investing more than 50 per cent of their liquid assets in housing, which leads to agonizing choices.
“Those who spend a lot on housing have less for the rest,” said the director. “This leads to difficult choices: a meal is cut here and there, the lunch box is less filled, we cut back on transport or leisure activities.”
Another 20 per cent of Quebecers are forced to cut back on their savings as they worry about not having enough for their retirement. An impact of the situation that Pinard considers “pernicious.”
A MORE OR LESS BRIGHT FUTURE
Quebecers perceive themselves to be in a worse financial position than they were six months ago when they were first surveyed.
Just 13 per cent of respondents believe that Quebec’s economic outlook will improve by the end of the year; 47 per cent expect it to stay the same and 33 per cent fear it will get worse.
MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS
Experiencing financial anxiety affects people’s mental health. Difficulty concentrating at work or school, as well as sleep disturbances, were identified by three in 10 respondents as symptoms caused by stress.
Nearly half of Quebecers (48 per cent) admitted to feeling anxious when thinking about their finances; 33 per cent of those surveyed prefer not to think about it. This avoidance strategy is more common among young adults aged 18 to 34, women and heads of household.
In 26 per cent of households, financial stress has had an impact on family members, causing conflict or tension.
According to Bourque, the rapid succession of the health crisis and the increase in inflation has left Quebecers with no chance.
“This is the first time that we have experienced two anxiety-provoking crises in quick succession without a short break in between. Mentally, Quebecers have not had a break,” he said.
The financial anxiety index is measured twice a year by the Léger polling firm for Centraide of Greater Montreal.
It is the result of an online survey conducted on the LEO platform between Feb. 17 and March 2 of this year, to which 2,104 Quebec adults responded. The index, which measures Quebecers’ anxiety about their financial situation, their financial literacy and their concerns about various financial issues, will be renewed until 2025.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 18, 2023.