Well over 200 people aged 20 to 65-plus were challenged to speak up for the younger generation and push for social change during the first VOICE on the Coast annual general meeting Nov. 26.
The large audience were gathered at Roberts Creek Hall Monday night to take part in the AGM and hear Dr. Paul Kershaw, one of Canada's leading thinkers about family policy, talk about the squeeze facing British Columbians aged 25 to 45.
Kershaw started by throwing out some hard-hitting statistics that prove things are much more difficult for this age group than they were 30 years ago.
"If you're aged 25 to 34 working full-time today, you make 13 per cent less than did the same person of the same age a generation ago," Kershaw said. "If you're 35 to 44 you make almost 25 per cent less than did the average British Columbian of that same age a generation ago."
He said those statistics ring true even though young people are more likely to get degrees for the jobs they hold, which wasn't the case 30 years ago.
"And yet with all their extra commitment of time to education, it's not paying enough dividends to actually hold their wages even on par with inflation, and they're paying for the privilege," Kershaw said. "Today tuition is over 150 per cent higher on average than it was in 1976. And then the highest number, the most frightening of them all for young people- - housing."
He showed that between 1976 and today, average housing prices in B.C. have risen from $200,000 to now over $560,000.
In 1976, a 25- to 34-year-old working full-time, making average wages, could save for a 20 per cent down payment on a home within five years. The B.C. average now for that age group is 15 years.
"Think of the weight that puts on one's shoulders after having delayed starting a career, incurring more student loans and student debt and then suddenly facing the housing market with lower wages and costs of living that are 160 per cent plus [what it was a generation ago]. It leaves a generation of younger Canadians and especially British Columbians squeezed," Kershaw said.
Add to that scenario a child and the loss of income when one parent stays home, compounded by the cost of childcare when one returns to work (if childcare can even be found), and things get worse.
"Even when young Canadians take advantage of our leave system and parents split time at home during the first year with their new baby, they will forego on average $15,000 after tax," Kershaw said.
"That's the equivalent of another mortgage on top of already higher housing prices. Why does that happen? Partly priorities. Canadians put more money at the federal level into subsidizing livestock and agriculture than we do subsidizing parental time at home when we have a new baby."
When parents have to go back to work, it's hard to find care because Canada isn't investing much in the way of creating new spaces, and what can be found is often expensive, up to $40 per day per child.
"Canada stands out in the developed economic world as being the least generous country on the planet when it comes to investing in things like childcare and kindergarten," Kershaw noted.
After painting a dismal picture, he showed ways those in attendance could help make a change.
He encouraged people to start talking about the issues, getting the information out there and then pressing the government for policy changes with their vote.
"Young people are one-third less likely to show up at the ballot box, and that is precisely the problem," he said. "Platforms are built around who shows up."
He said the Coast is on the right track with VOICE on the Coast leading the discussion.
"VOICE is the first organization that I have seen in Canada that's really taking seriously some of the generational challenges that are playing out disproportionate to younger Canadians and wanting to create space for them to articulate their voice to call for change," he said. "It's beautiful, it's rarely done, and yet again, as has been the case many times on the Coast, you are at the forefront of leadership."
VOICE on the Coast was created about two years ago after a Sunshine Coast Community Foundation report, Vital Signs, showed the need to attract, retain and engage young adults on the Coast.
A strategic plan was created to reach that goal and a steering committee was formed, dubbed VOICE on the Coast.
The group has held various events for young people and created an on-line presence. On Monday they elected their first board of directors: Lori Pratt, Chad Hershler, JM Boyd, Silas White and Julie Clark. Find out more at www.voiceonthecoast.com.
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