The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of 19 Winnipeg-area lower and lower-middle income families is the focus of a new research report from the Canadian Financial Diaries project.
The report describes in incredible detail how job loss, government benefits, medical worries and other forces changed their financial and emotional situations from June to September 2020. The Financial Diaries project tracks the financial standing of 29 families over a year. Nineteen of those 29 families agreed to participate in the COVID-related project, and described with great specificity how the pandemic changed their lives, financially and emotionally.
The report was written by Dr. Jodi Dueck-Read of the Financial Diaries project, but the stories are told by the participants. For the majority of participants, continued employment and social supports such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) resulted in little impact on household income. In fact, three participants earned more with CERB than they previously earned in their low-wage jobs. But the impact on those ineligible for CERB was more dramatically negative. Casual work dried up. Participants noted higher expenses, increased stresses and worries about their financial future. About half of the participants (9 of 19) reported depleting their savings. Four of the 19 participants expressed no awareness of government pandemic supports.
“Low- and moderate-income earners are feeling stressed with increased expenses and uncertainty about future economic stability,” Dueck-Read wrote in the report’s summary. “The results note the resilience of participants coming from a variety of financial backgrounds.”
A number of factors affected household expenses. The loss or relocation of jobs increased the number of people at home, pushing basic household utilities higher. Some households shopped more online or at corner stores, increasing food costs. Some used taxis to replace public transportation because of the health risks.
Financial and healthcare concerns were only part of the stresses. Participants had to make childcare adjustments. Post-secondary students moved home to attend classes online. “Some have felt isolated and mentally drained form the pandemic lockdown and reality. Others worry about their financial futures while feeling safeguarded in the present,” the report noted.
The results of 19 families from the Winnipeg area do not produce meaningful data of the larger situation in other communities. But the individual stories tell the individual hardships in a way data cannot. Participants describe how increased reliance on debit cards pushed them over the limit of the number of “free” debit transactions in a month. Other parents lamented only being able to afford carb-heavy diets for their family. One student purchased considerable insurance because “if something drastic happens or I get ill or unable to work, how do we eat?”
A video summary of the report is also available.