Different lifestyles, different worries

CCPA analysis looks at the assets and debts of British Columbians
March 22, 2002

(Vancouver) British Columbians have strikingly different lifestyles and financial priorities because of their strikingly different assets and debts, according to new analysis released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"Upstairs, downstairs and in between: The assets and debts of British Columbians" is the third in a series of CCPA papers that analyze the distribution of wealth. The figures, collected for Statistics Canada's recent Survey of Financial Security, were obtained by special order for CCPA and are the only data of their kind ever published.

The two previous reports focused on the enormous gap between rich and poor. This third report adds a new glimpse at the group right in the middle.

The poorest 20 percent of family units in BC had debts that outweighed their assets, the middle 20 percent had average wealth of $95,871, and the richest 20 percent had average wealth of $908,536.

"The numbers show that for the very poor, the very rich, and those in between, the choices people have and the lifestyles they follow have very little in common with each other," says Steve Kerstetter, author of the report and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The latest report includes details of the types of assets and debts held by British Columbians on different rungs of the economic ladder. It shows that only the richest families and individuals have true financial security. Poor people are always at risk. And while people in the middle may be climbing up the ladder, the climb is difficult and the outcome anything but certain.

"Although the people in the middle group seem to be doing well, many of them would have trouble weathering a financial storm because so much of their wealth is tied up in housing," Kerstetter says. "If their job incomes disappeared, they could be in dire straits in short order."

The report shows that a majority of British Columbians have very modest liquid assets or other types of assets that could be easily converted to cash to help tide them over during hard times. Kerstetter says that reality has a depressing effect on the provincial economy.

"People in tight financial circumstances are unlikely to spend more on consumer goods, and that makes it harder for the economy to weather downturns and recover. If people are also worried about losing their jobs, they will hold back even more."