We’re dealing with an epidemic in Calgary. The problem is, no one is talking about it and it’s not easy to spot.
Many people are working one or more jobs, but are still struggling to make ends meet. One missed paycheque or unforeseen cost could have huge consequences for so many families, but it’s not something most of us feel comfortable sharing. Many people experience a sense of shame around their situation and are worried about how they would be perceived if they spoke out—that others would think they aren’t working hard enough or aren’t able to manage their finances effectively.
Living paycheque to paycheque is a tough reality faced by many people from all neighbourhoods across our city. In 2016, more than 40,000 Calgary households were at risk of becoming homeless, having spent more than 50% of their income on shelter, according to The City of Calgary. And many of these households are next door to you–regardless of your area code.
“I don’t even want to think about what would happen if one of us lost our jobs. My husband and I are both professionals, and we have done our best to plan our finances, but in reality, if we were thrown a curve-ball—losing a job, an unexpected illness, or even getting into a car accident—it could really send us into a financial tailspin.”
–Lindsey, Calgary professional
The mental and physical costs of working and struggling
The fact is, the number of Canadians who live from one paycheque to the next is at an all-time high, a staggering 47% according to this article from the CBC. The article also states that more than a third of those polled feel overwhelmed by their debt levels. There’s no question that this is affecting the mental and physical health of our friends and neighbours who are struggling to make ends meet.
Working multiple jobs to pay the bills leaves you feeling burnt out and overwhelmed, but what are the long-term effects of so much stress on the body? More and more studies, like this one, are finding that when a person is under chronic stress, it can actually suppress the immune system and make them sick. This can lead to inflammation in the body which has been linked to longer-term illnesses. As people in a community become unhealthy, it can also impact the overall health of the community.
“For years I worked during the weekdays as a professional, and took on babysitting jobs during the evenings and weekends to pay the bills. Despite having a university education and a professional career, the combination of student loan payments, my mortgage, and the cost of groceries left very little wiggle room by the end of the month. Working so many hours each week took a toll on my health, and I was often sick. It was so tough to stay afloat, let alone get ahead.” –Rebecca, corporate Calgarian
The stigma around financial challenges needs to be reduced. Being able to share in an authentic way can help build community and contribute to positive mental health. The best way to make change is to work together. Being more comfortable sharing our struggles with each other will have the most positive impact.
So what can we do right now?
Here are some of the ways we can make things better:
- Talk about it. Just as we’ve become much more comfortable talking about mental health in general, talking about working and struggling can help people feel supported.
- Start something in your community that is low-cost but increases social capital. A community garden, a meditation group, or walking group are ways to improve your community and bring people together.
- If you know someone who’s working and struggling to balance everything, offer help. Shovel their walk, offer childcare, or again, just be someone they can talk to.
If you are working and struggling and are not sure where to get help, please call 211 to be connected to supports and services in your area.