From the hip After many Albertans pay for a place to live, there isn’t much left for proper nutrition
When most Canadians think of food insecurity, they likely envision a poor person a world away. And although they may be frustrated when a grocery item is sold out, the reality of food insecurity which is defined as a “lack of access to affordable, adequate food through socially acceptable means” is a little more startling. Statistically, nearly 10 per cent of Canadians are not able to obtain food when needed and this includes the high wage earners in the province of Alberta.
A lack of healthy, nutritious food in the pantry is related to low income and/or a high cost of living. For all Albertans, the cost of housing has dominated the budget across income groups. Housing now accounts on an average of up to 71 per cent of costs with the price of utilities adding to the woe. In addition, rising fuel costs are crippling some Alberta families. This leaves very little for food Canadians now only spend between seven and 20 per cent of household income on food.
Single parents need to find adequate shelter and that is proving to be difficult as the cost of housing is up 40 per cent higher than it should be to allow for a balanced budget that includes nutritional planning. Twenty-five per cent of single-parent families face food insecurity in Alberta. Of working mothers, only 35 of every 100 earn over $12 an hour. This puts a huge stress on families and as a recent Alberta report identified, most are between $269 and $662 short of income each month.
Families are not alone. Seniors are very pressed to eat at the level they are accustomed to. Today, a senior would need to pay a total housing cost of just $390 a month to meet the recommended allocation between food and shelter. And those on assisted living need to find housing for $325 a month in order not to be $1,000 short of the cost of living — housing is simply not available at this price.
I recall sharing a taxi with a woman who worked with the homeless in a major Alberta city. She surprised me with the fact that so many families, even those with six-figure salaries, live on the streets and often out of their car.
The cost of a booming economy is often overlooked but if you stop and really choose to see, there is evidence all through Alberta. In Calgary one of the platform promises of Mayor Nenshi was to legalize basement suites to open up housing in the city. A strong indicator of the health of a community in terms of consumer spending power is evident in many towns where the only growing retail is the dollar and discount store.
It is an irony that 10 per cent of Canadians and 25 per cent of single-parent families worry about food when food wastage in Canada is at 40 per cent. We throw away more than enough to ensure food security in the nation and in each province. But it is also a tragedy when housing costs dominate family budgets. An Alberta study found that food costs at 15 per cent or less of income was affordable if the cost of housing stayed near 30 per cent. With housing costs over 70 per cent, the food budget is totally crushed.
Paying for prosperity
Alberta is one of the richest economies in the world and has the highest GDP in Canada. Real estate has increased 3.6 per cent annually, with financial services increasing 4.1 per cent and construction increasing four per cent of the total distribution of GDP since 1985. Food inflation is rampant. Albertans are paying for their wealth and the low-income persons in the province bear the brunt of this cost of wealth. The cost of housing is one of the highest in the nation.
Today, the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment with utilities for a single male in Calgary is nearly 76.5 per cent of after-tax earnings based on minimum wage. The same apartment in Fort McMurray costs $500 a month more at $1,679. Rental rates in small towns differ very little as the precedent has been set by the larger centres. For a family of four in Calgary the cost of housing and utilities is 101 per cent of after-tax earnings based on minimum wage. If there are two minimum-wage earners in the home, day care for one child will cost 84.6 per cent of the second income. Add in the cost of transportation, education and other necessities and there is very little left — nothing really — for food. The average monthly food cost in Alberta for a family of four is $774. Even for the single male with the bare costs of an apartment and a transit pass, there is just $1 left for food.
Credit has become a way of life for all Canadians and Alberta again leads the way. Although most folks are starting to use their credit card less, they are finding other ways to borrow. Today, the debt-to-income ratio is at 150 per cent. Borrowing cannot buy one out of debt, but Albertans’ continue to buy food on credit. The numbers don’t lie.
Canadians, but especially Albertans are being ripped off. An Albertan in the energy sector contributes $195 to the GDP per hour for every hour worked, yet men and women are hard pressed to find affordable housing. The high cost of housing and severe food inflation has brought food insecurity to the Canadian doorstep and to the kitchen tables of Alberta.