Business

When it comes to personal finances, most Canadian voters have the same concerns

Over the course of this election, political parties will spend millions targeting voters. They'll try to convince you they're just like you. They're worried about the same things you are and hopeful about the same things, too. But how much do we Canadians really know about one another?

Canada is a vast and diverse country, but data shows many of us are facing similar economic challenges

Elections are supposed to be a chance to bring the country together and decide how to proceed on the important issues of our day. But that's incredibly hard to do well when we're all wrapped up in our own little bubbles. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Over the course of this election, political parties will spend tens of millions of dollars targeting voters. They'll try to convince you they're just like you. They're worried about the same things you are and hopeful about the same things, too.

But how much do we Canadians really know about one another?

What we do

In an economy driven by resources and banking, it would be easy to think the most common jobs are working oil rigs or in finance.

But as the graphic below shows, retail salesperson tops the list of most common jobs for women, and is second on the list for men, behind only truck driver.

We are a nation of consumers, after all.

Retail salespeople, truck drivers and cashiers are all jobs being targeted by automation. That may help explain why there's so much economic anxiety in Canada right now. Some of the most common jobs in the country are set to be replaced, or at least fundamentally altered, in the not-too-distant future. 

And even if your job isn't under threat by automation, many people in Canada are pessimistic about their long-term prospects. According to a recent CBC poll, the thing most Canadians are concerned about is the cost of living

What we worry about

At a macro level, the Canadian economy is doing well. Perhaps not great, but certainly not bad. Jobs are being added in droves and GDP growth has come in well above expectations. But that economic expansion is patchy at best. GDP forecasts for B.C. and Newfoundland and Labrador are in a different stratosphere than those for Alberta and New Brunswick.

Perhaps our biggest concern is debt. Canadians owe record amounts of money. The national debt-to-income ratio is a staggering 177 per cent. For every dollar we earn, we owe $1.77. That debt keeps Canadians up at night and has a real impact on their quality of life. 

How much money we make

Over the course of any election you will hear nearly endless appeals to the middle class. An Environics poll from 2012 famously found that 93 per cent of Canadians believe they're in the middle class.

The median household income in Canada is $70,675 (that's household, not individual).

And yes, the economy is in the midst of a 10-year expansion. Since the end of the 2008 financial crisis, stock markets have rebounded considerably and corporate profits have bounced back.

A top concern among Canadians is keeping up with the cost of living. (Shutterstock)

But wages have remained stubbornly flat. So, the economic benefits have largely gone to shareholders, not workers.

Wages are finally showing some signs of life. Canadian wage growth in July came in at 4.5 per cent and remained high in August, at 3.7 per cent. But there's a big gap to close when looking at who has benefited since the financial crisis of 2008.

Why this matters

Elections are supposed to be a chance to bring the country together and decide how to proceed on the important issues of our day. But that's incredibly hard to do well when we're all wrapped up in our own little bubbles. Understanding how different we are — and how much we have in common — is essential to understanding the country and to deciding where we stand on critical issues.

In this vast country, we are bound to have different experiences and work different jobs and hold different ideas. It's natural to surround ourselves with people who agree with us, people who have similar backgrounds and similar stances on the issues.

That's why it's all the more important to look across the country and across income groups and age groups and remember the things we do have in common.

About the Author

Senior Business reporter for CBC News. A former host of On the Money and World Report on CBC Radio, Peter Armstrong has been a foreign correspondent and parliamentary reporter for CBC. Twitter: @armstrongcbc