Canadians' well-being trails economic growth, study finds (CBC News)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The gap between the country's economic health and Canadians' well-being has widened over a two-decade period, according to a report released Tuesday.

Over the period studied in the report -- 1994 through 2014 -- Canadian gross domestic product grew by 38 per cent, said Bryan Smale, a professor at the University of  Waterloo and the director of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.

"But our well-being has only grown by about just under 10 per cent, and that gap between our well-being and economic progress is growing," Smale told CBC News.

Not socializing as much

"The trickle effect of that has been people are sacrificing important time in things like leisure and culture. They are not socializing with their friends as much, they are not protecting as much of their income for vacation and valued activities that does enhance their well-being," he said.

The national well-being index is based on 64 indicators in eight categories, including living standards, time use, leisure and culture, and community vitality, among others. The index draws on about 200 data sources, primarily from Statistics Canada.

In 2007, the gap between GDP and the well-being index was 22 percentage points. By 2010, the gap had risen to 24.5 percentage points, and by 2014, it had jumped to 28.1.

Living standards were hit hard by the 2008 recession, with work becoming more precarious, the report said. Income inequality is growing while Canadians are struggling with the cost of and access to quality food and housing, despite a 30 per cent increase in median family incomes and a decrease in the number of people living in poverty.

"​I am sure that somebody that lost his job in the oilpatch out of Alberta or his manufacturing job here in Ontario … they don't pick up the paper every quarter and look at GDP and go: It's improved. My life is so much better," Smale said.

Less volunteer time

The well-being report found that Canadians are spending less time engaged in the arts, culture, and social leisure.  The report also said time spent volunteering for culture and recreation organizations is down almost 30 per cent, Canadians are are spending fewer nights away on vacation.

Canadians are also trying to cope with a time crunch, as they spend less time with friends and more time commuting. Meanwhile, only 35 per cent of Canadians are getting enough sleep, down from 44 per cent in 1994.

Smale said Canadians are feeling more time-stressed and more concerned about their lives. 

"We are actually seeing, after years of progress, peoples' reporting of their overall health and their mental health is starting to decline a little bit since the recession and that is worrisome," he said.

The well-being index found that education was the only indicator that kept pace with the gains of the economy during the two decades studied. About nine out of 10 students complete high school, while the percentage of Canadians with a university degree grew from 17 per cent in 1994 to 28 per cent in 2014. 

Community involvement also showed signs of improvement, the report said, with two-thirds of Canadians having a strong sense of community belonging. People also report feeling safer in their neighbourhoods amid a drop in an index measuring crime severity.

Read the article online through CBC Business: 

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