From the Financial Post.
VICTORIA - Many Canadian households carry debt loads in the "danger zone," says the executive director of the Ottawa-based Vanier Institute of the Family.
Average household debt rose to more than $90,000 in 2008, Clarence Lochhead told a recent meeting of Victoria's Association of Family Serving Agencies. The Vanier Institute is a non-profit agency promoting the well-being of Canadian families.
The total debt-to-disposable income ratio rose to 140% last year, Mr. Lochhead said, referring to the Institute's report, The Current State of Canadian Family Finances.
Last year, the average household income was $65,200, up by 11.6% from 1990. In that same period, spending jumped by 24.4%, total debt went up more than six times faster than incomes, and annual savings shrank, he said.
The median (mid-point) real earnings of Canadians, when adjusted for inflation, show little increases between 1980 and 2005, he said. Meanwhile, many citizens are overloaded at work.
The reward: "We got credit. We got a lot of credit," he said in reference to interest rates dropping in the past several years.
"But there was a whole, I think, really big cultural shift too in the way we think about spending, the way we feel about money, the way we feel about availability of credit - the push to spend when you don't have money," he said.
When spending outpaces income, families end up close to the edge of their monthly budget. Mr. Lochhead said it can be financially painful if they hit a bump in the road, whether it is due to the fallout from today's recession or a personal reason.
It is not irrational behaviour to pull back on spending, Mr. Lochhead added. He said that not all debt is bad, but rising consumer debt as a percentage of annual income is "problematic."
Looking at the examples from past recessions, Mr. Lochhead said it could take a long time to recover from this recession.
He also had advice for governments that plan stimulus spending, "At the provincial level, why don't we do something about social assistance rates?" That money goes immediately back into the local economy, he said.
"Any analysis of spending at the lower income end will show you that every marginal dollar received will be spent and there is a very high probability that it will be spent locally."
When we are talking about infrastructure, Mr. Lochhead urged looking at more than roads and bridges. "Let's talk about providing supports that are going to help families."