Suburban families. Young renters. Frail seniors. Data reveals who is most at risk financially and socially across Canada amidst the pandemic

Some impressive integration of diverse data sources that highlights the range of vulnerable groups from a variety of angles:

New data from Environics Analytics highlights communities made vulnerable by coronavirus lockdowns across the country and profiles people at risk — such as young suburban families — that might get overlooked.

The data suggests where governments, businesses and social agencies need to focus supports and services as the economy takes baby steps toward reopening, Environics says.

“Governments are going to have to get more focused and pinpoint who they need to help and how,” says Rupen Seoni, senior vice president at Environics Analytics. “We have to get the right help to the right people.”

The data, which Environics Analytics made available to the Star, scores Canada’s more than 850,000 postal code communities on how likely they are to be vulnerable financially, socially, and by how old and frail their residents might be. The data company also developed profiles of people most at risk in those categories.

The company used thousands of data points from a long list of sources, including its own demographic research, Statistics Canada, the Bank of Canada, Canada Post, aggregated credit scores, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the census and surveys.

Environics found that the most financially vulnerable census metropolitan area in the country is Cold Lake, Alta., largely because of its reliance on the oilsands industry, which has seen the price of its product plummet during the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The least financially vulnerable is Canmore, also in Alberta, and the Greater Toronto Area fares only slightly worse. But the affluence indicated at Toronto’s metropolitan census level masks dense vulnerable pockets of people at the neighbourhood level, Environics notes.

Environics defines financially vulnerable people as those who will struggle to meet financial obligations like mortgages or utility bills if coronavirus lockdowns caused a sudden drop in their income. It’s sadly no surprise that Indigenous people, after generations of colonialism and trauma, appear in this category as highly vulnerable.

More surprising, perhaps, is the high financial vulnerability of young suburban families.

According to Environics, the 700,000 households in this group are affluent when all is well. But they have relatively low savings — $57,000 on average — and a total debt that is double their household income of $105,000.

“They don’t have the liquid assets in savings to fall back on,” Seoni says. “They may be running into trouble in terms of having a sudden loss of income, based on their lifestyles.” Much depends on whether they’re able to continue working at home or in essential services during the lockdown.

Also highly vulnerable financially are “young urban renters,” Environics found.

“The younger renters in cities are not that highly indebted, they just don’t have that much income in the first place,” Seoni says. “When they lose their jobs, there’s just nothing left.”

Young single people in urban areas also face high levels of social vulnerability due to pandemic restrictions on movement.

Environics Analytics defines social vulnerability as people likely to experience isolation and mental health troubles, while having limited social networks and supports. It’s a challenge more prevalent in urban areas rather than rural ones.

Environics found that 36 per cent of young singles surveyed in cities reported feeling a weak sense of community belonging.

“Often, they are transplants into the big city, so their social networks tend to be weaker,” Seoni says. “A good number of them would be students … They’re alone in the city, almost.”

Newcomers to Canada also face high levels of social vulnerability, Environics found.

“What’s really driving it for these newcomers is a lack of social networks,” Seoni says. Something as simple as finding a trusted person to rely on for groceries, for example, can be a challenge, Seoni adds.

Older people, particularly those on low incomes, and people with poor health, make up a group that, according to Environics, is vulnerable due to a high level of “frailty.”

The coronavirus has made only too clear the vulnerability of people in nursing homes. But the people Environics highlights are those not living in nursing homes, but whose frailty makes daily activities difficult.

The District of Guysborough, anchored by a port town in Nova Scotia, has the highest frailty level of vulnerability in Canada, Environics found. Peel Region, west of Toronto, has one of the lowest, but Seoni again warns about the regionwide picture masking vulnerable pockets.

“In the big picture, you don’t have many frail citizens,” he says. “But they’re there and they need help.”


The real housing boom: The suburbs are where we want to be – Yakabuski

Not just want: affordability. Yakabuski on the demographic trends towards the suburbs, particularly the 905 and BC’s Lower Mainland:

The raw numbers are even more revealing. More than two-thirds of Canadians already live in some form of suburb, according to research by Queen’s University’s David Gordon, who divides Canada’s urban population between those who live in the “active core” of cities, in “transit suburbs” with ready access to public transport, and in the “auto suburbs” where the car rules.

Between 2006 and 2011, the active cores added 89,000 souls; the transit suburbs grew by 70,000. The auto suburbs added 1.3 million people, with 380,000 more in suburban Toronto alone. “We’re a suburban nation,” says Prof. Gordon. “That trend is not soon going to change.”

Luckily, Canada has not seen the kind of “sorting” of its population that has made the political divide between U.S. suburbs (largely white, middle-class and Republican) and inner cities (ethnically and socio-economically diverse and overwhelmingly Democratic) so unbridgeable. In Canada, it’s in the suburbs where elections are the most competitive.

The reason, Prof. Gordon notes, is that our suburbs are far more diverse.

Though we have “ethnic enclaves” such as Brampton, Ont., and Surrey, B.C., they are neither exclusive nor cut off from the surrounding community or society. This helps explains why suburban politics is so fluid here.

“There’s hope in Canada; we’re not as dug in as the Americans on the blue-red thing,” Prof. Gordon says. “It’s possible for any centrist politician to craft a platform to win in the suburbs.”

Source: The real housing boom: The suburbs are where we want to be – The Globe and Mail