“For Jennifer Fox, 37, life in Vancouver has not turned out as she’d hoped. Despite having three university degrees and dreams of a West Coast home and family, she finds herself caught—like thousands of her contemporaries—with none of the accoutrements of success. She lives in a no-bedroom, 380-square-foot West End shoebox and is happy if her income as a research assistant at UBC leaves her $100 extra at month’s end. “I feel stupid not leaving in 2010,” she admits. “I’m young and live in Vancouver: my glass is half-empty.”
Discouraged by the few job opportunities, massive education debt, and the conviction that life is passing them by, 10,000 members of the newly coined Generation Squeeze—ages 20 to 40s—have left the city in the last five years, according to Statistics Canada. Too expensive. A career black hole. In fact, every one of Fox’s dozen closest friends has moved away.
This sentiment is familiar to Paul Kershaw, a professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. Kershaw, 40, invented the term Generation Squeeze four years ago, and has spent the time since studying the economic and cultural trends that have led many of Canada’s frustrated millennials to ask themselves: “What am I doing wrong?” His conclusion? Nothing, but 21st-century demographics and economics—and their own political apathy—have conspired against them. This is particularly true, he knows, in Vancouver. Security based on higher education, job opportunities, a good income, affordable home ownership, manageable debt, and optimism about the future—touchstones of the boomer generation—is elusive in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
The economic and demographic statistics Kershaw has gathered provide vivid comparisons between what boomers faced in 1975 and what their millennial counterparts encounter today. Adjusted for inflation, the average household 40 years ago earned $65,000 (one family member working)—virtually the same as today’s $68,000 (two members working). But the average adjusted cost of housing in Metro Vancouver in 1975 ($251,000) is over three times higher today, at $813,000.