Struggle for Survival: The Rising Cost of Living in Canada and Its Impact on a Grad Student

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Shramana Sarkar works variable shifts at two coffee shops while fitting in time to study and teach. From week to week, she doesn't know when she'll work or how much money she'll bring home. Malone Mullin/CBC

Shramana Sarkar’s Journey from Aspiring Geologist to Juggling Multiple Jobs Amid Economic Hardships

In the cozy, confined space of her living room, barely accommodating a CBC camera, Shramana Sarkar, a 24-year-old earth sciences teaching assistant at Memorial University, shares her harrowing experience of balancing education and multiple jobs in today’s economically challenging Canada.

From Dreams to Hardship

Originally from Kolkata, Sarkar moved to St. John’s in 2018 for her bachelor’s degree, driven by a passion for geology and the aspiration for a doctorate. According to CBC News, back then, one part-time job sufficed for her living expenses. However, the escalating cost of living has drastically altered her situation.

“Slowly, over the years, I’ve had to take on more jobs,” Sarkar reveals, highlighting the shift from one to three jobs necessary to make ends meet.

A Growing Trend of Precarious Employment

Sarkar’s plight is not isolated. A recent report by the Canadian Association of Chartered Accountants and findings by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives underscore a nationwide increase in precarious employment. As per these reports, one in five Canadian workers might be in such unstable job situations, compounded by stagnant wages and increasing living costs.

“There’s real insecurity out there,” remarks Walid Hejazi, an economist at the Rotman School of Management, Toronto, underscoring the disproportionate impact of this insecurity on vulnerable groups.

Economic Indicators and Lost Hopes

Hejazi, who authored a book on Canada’s declining prosperity, notes the country’s GDP per capita’s steady decline relative to other economies. This economic downturn is mirrored in the increasing need for Canadians to take on extra work, second jobs, or side gigs.

David Williams, a policy expert with the Business Council of British Columbia, adds to this narrative, pointing out the bleak prospects for young Canadians entering the workforce today, facing a long period of stagnating average real incomes.

Sarkar says she wouldn’t be able to get by without three jobs.

Sarkar’s Balancing Act

Today, Sarkar’s rent has doubled, and her grocery bills have surged by 20%. None of her three jobs, including her teaching position and two barista gigs, provide sufficient hours to cover all her basic needs.

“The thought of having to do so many things just sort of paralyzes me,” she says, conveying the overwhelming nature of her daily struggle.

Nationwide Echoes of Struggle

Julia Smith, a labour historian at the University of Manitoba, emphasizes that Sarkar’s situation is emblematic of countless workers across Canada who face daily challenges and a sense of despair about the future.

Historical Context and Capitalist Dilemma

Smith traces the history of precarious work, noting significant changes around 70 years ago with policies promoting education and unionization. However, she points out the inherent conflict in expecting a capitalist system, prioritizing profit, to provide meaningful lives for all.

A Glimmer of Hope Amid Despair

Despite the hardships, Sarkar remains committed to her education and jobs. “I just sort of struggle with this by myself, and it’s repeating every day,” she conveys with a sense of determination, even as she acknowledges the lack of alternatives.