Well-being in decline after recession

Although we are now several years removed from the onset of the 2008 global recession, a recent report released from the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) indicates the impact that the recession had on Canadians’ overall wellbeing has been substantial.

Between 2008 and 2010, the Index showed a 24 per cent decline, which also saw a decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by approximately 8 per cent.

“In relative terms, it’s showing that our wellbeing is affected three times as much as the economy — almost — during a recession,” explained Linda McKessock, the project manager for the CIW, which is based out of the University of Waterloo.

“And while our GDP is starting to go back up, our well-being is still on the downward curve.”

The comprehensive index measures 8 different areas that are believed to factor into the well-being of Canadians, including health, leisure, culture and education, among other areas. It aims to expand on traditional measures of well-being, which are often limited to GDP.

“We at the University of Waterloo think it should be measured more accurately to reflect what Canadians value,” said McKessock.

This year’s report was the second that combined all eight factors into a “composite index,” though the project has been developing for about 12 years.

Education, living standards and community vitality are all on the rise. Additionally, university graduation rates have increased by 57.9 per cent over the past 17 years.

However, higher university attendance isn’t all positive news.

“What we’re seeing is there’s massive increase in long term unemployment. Guess who that’s hitting? It’s hitting those graduating university students that aren’t able to find the careers, in some cases, that they thought their education might get them,” said McKessock.

She continued, “You’ve got this lovely graduation rate, really high, you’ve got high unemployment, and these student debts that people are coming out of university with, they’re not able to pay them off, so really their well-being, you could argue, isn’t as good as it should be.”

Mary MacNutt, the manager for policy and communications for the Association of Ontario Health Centres (AOHC), recognized that the impact of the recession has extended into other areas.

“That’s going to have an effect on health and well-being, not just people’s bank accounts,” she considered.

One of the recommendations in the CIW was to have an increase in access to Community Health Centres (CHCs), which move beyond primary care to provide other services, such as counseling and health education.

“It’s a much more comprehensive approach, a much more holistic approach,” said MacNutt. “They’re all about creating a complete sense of health and wellbeing.”

The goal of the CIW is to have an impact on the creation of informed public policy that takes into consideration the well-being of Canadians.

“If you’re making a policy, you really need to look at a more inclusive picture and then you’ll end up with policies that are more progressive and help more people,” McKessock said.

McKessock encouraged people to talk about the issues through social media, speaking with MPs or other venues to help raise awareness and generate impact on policy.

  • 4.9% Decrease in violent crime rate per 100,000 population from 1994 to 2010.
  • 57.9% Upward change from 1994 in percentage of 25 to 64-year-olds with a university degree.
  • 17.9% The increase in Canada’s ecological footprint between 1994 and 2010.

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