“The Work Shift” series is written for Daily Hive by Gerald Narciso, a Vancouver-based freelance journalist, as he speaks with millennial and Gen Z workers who are navigating the post-pandemic job market in real-time. Read part 1 of the series: The Work Shift: Out of Work During the Pandemic These Women Created Their Own.
Jaskirat Singh’s monthly expenses come out to roughly $2,500.
His portion of the rent for a basement suite in the Fleetwood section of Surrey that he shares with his girlfriend is $550 — which he says is reasonable considering the current market. Singh is also on the hook for a car payment (a 2015 Chevrolet Cruze he finances), insurance, gas, utilities, and a concerningly rising grocery bill. Saving is non-existent.
During the turbulent pandemic period, Singh did whatever was necessary to cover his bills on time. He worked as a security guard. He put in over 60 hours per week as a driver for Uber, Uber Eats, and Skip the Dishes. He even worked in construction. Often, these jobs overlapped, and the mental and physical strain started to compound.
“I got a lot of back pain from driving all day and sitting in the same position,” said Singh, 26, who moved to Vancouver from the Punjab region of India in 2015 to study mass communications at Columbia College. “I was constantly tired and stressed.”
Olivia, 28, may not have been in the same dire situation as Singh during the pandemic, but she also required multiple income streams. As an entry-level physiotherapist, Olivia (whose real name has been changed) is still building up her client base. With a five-figure student debt and fears of a possible recession, she picks up two night shifts a week as a server at a popular chain restaurant.
“I don’t know that many people in Vancouver that have just one job,” said Olivia, adding that the money she earns from serving covers her rent and student loan payments. “So without [her serving job], it would be a bit of a struggle to be able to do things that I enjoy and actually have fun with my life rather than just living paycheque to paycheque.”
The affordability crisis
In a city where housing and cost of living are amongst the highest globally, one solid 9-to-5 for many is rarely enough. But the post-pandemic economy — one with soaring rents, increased inflation, and food costs – has only enhanced uncertainty and financial pressure. A 2022 survey conducted by the National Payroll Institute found a 26% increase from 2021 of Canadian workers living paycheque to paycheque.
“I think many young Canadians are definitely experiencing the affordability crisis,” said Scott Stirrett, the Founder and CEO of Venture for Canada (VFC). “A lot of millennials and a lot of Gen Zs are being financially squeezed compared to their parent’s generation.”
Before 2020, Adam J. Bell earned $42,000 as an entry-level video game developer. He lived with a roommate, took transit, refrained from retail, and cooked most of his meals (he documented his frugal lifestyle on Youtube).
However, the pandemic forced Bell, 23, to re-evaluate. With his gaming company downsizing, he was working remotely around the clock. As a salaried employee, there was no overtime pay. He questioned whether the modest paycheck justified the extra output.
“This is when I decided to start my YouTube channel,” said Bell, whose video content focuses on personal finances and real estate in Vancouver. “I told myself that I was going to do this side hustle, so maybe one day I can leave the video game industry.”
He didn’t exactly go viral his first month as a YouTube content creator, netting just $5.17 in royalties. But his videos eventually gained momentum. Bell resigned from the video game company in April 2021 after he was able to save $10,000 as his nest egg.
“Everything rising and rising”
Anne-Lyse Wealth, a US-based personal finance writer and coach, advises that people set aside 12 months of living expenses before even considering replacing their day job with their side hustle.
“A side hustle is worth it if you have a clear idea of how you will leverage it on your journey to improve your finances and become financially free,” Wealth, a regular contributor to The Harvard Business Review, told Daily Hive. “Also, having a side hustle you are interested in beyond the monetary aspect helps make the long work hours more enjoyable.”
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Chasing career happiness may be more feasible than finding financial freedom for many in the Lower Mainland. The current average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver is $2,730 according to Rentals.ca, and the average house is priced around $1.11 million.
“I often see memes about this kind of thing on TikTok or Instagram, that calls out Vancouver employers who want all this experience and job responsibilities just to pay you $20 an hour,” Bell said. “But I can see the other side too. Obviously, rent for these buildings and storefronts for these companies are expensive too.”
Today’s current economic climate is threatening the dream to have a traditional family dynamic.
“The basic reason we came here from India and left our family back home is to create a good living space for ourselves and also for our parents because eventually, they have to come and live with us here,” said Singh. “And being from a conservative Indian family, I have to have kids.
“With everything rising and rising, I don’t think I can buy a house in the next five years.”
Making small progress
On a macroeconomic level, Stirrett puts a lot of the onus on policymakers — including federal, provincial, and municipal — to ease the financial pressure on Canadian workers and create a more sustainable path.
Bell, Singh, and Olivia are not politicians. They know they cannot control interest rates, gas prices, or recessions. But each is making small, if not significant, progress in their careers and life.
Olivia has recently been promoted as a physiotherapist. She also got word that starting in April, the government will cease interest rates on student loans. She plans on retaining her server-side hustle and is optimistic about owning a condo in Vancouver (and not bolting to Alberta).
Bell decided to pivot to real estate, where he is now a realtor with Engel & Völkers. He has also grown his YouTube channel to over 50,000 subscribers and estimates he splits his time 50-50 between the two ventures. Bell also freelances for Daily Hive. Combined, his annual income is on pace to near $100,000.
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“It’s enough where I think I can live a comfortable lifestyle in Vancouver,” says Bell, who now splits a $2,100 rental apartment in Kits with a friend.
Singh wondered if he could ever catch a break. While visiting family in India last year, he unexpectedly parted ways with one of the ride-sharing companies, leaving him in a financial bind.
“I was in really bad shape,” said Singh, admitting to falling into a deep depression. “I was thinking that I ruined my life coming here because I never really got to utilize my college degree.”
With the emotional and financial support of his girlfriend, Singh started to climb out of his state of depression late last year. He put the gig economy and manual labour jobs behind him. He updated his LinkedIn page and started focusing on landing corporate roles.
In December 2022, he secured a job as an insurance sales representative. It only pays a little shy of $20 an hour and barely covers his bills. But it’s a fresh start and there’s an opportunity to grow.
“When I got into this job, there was so much to learn that I just thought to myself, ‘you know, I should focus here for a couple of months,’” he said.
But soon, reality will hit once again and he plans on re-adding ride-sharing to his work plate. Here in Vancouver, it’s the only way.