The pandemic upended David Klein’s burgeoning acting career in New York, but the 26-year-old was fortunate he was able to return to the comforts of his childhood home in downtown Toronto.

Still, with the cost of almost everything on a sharp upward trajectory and exchange and interest rates working against him, Klein doesn’t expect to return to a more independent life for several more years.

“I don’t have an income right now that would sustain both paying a huge amount of student debt and also rent, which is increasing by a lot,” said Klein, a dual citizen who borrowed almost $100,000 to attend New York University’s four-year theatre school program and was preparing for his first off-Broadway play when the pandemic hit in 2020.

The long-standing high cost of accommodation in Toronto has this year been joined by broader inflation, with prices for food, fuel, transport and a range of other basic and discretionary goods pushed up by pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and worker shortages.

Younger people are feeling the pinch more than older folks due to differences in their spending habits, according to Toronto-Dominion Bank, which in March took a closer look at the demographic distribution of pricing pain in the United States.

“The cost of clothing, the cost of haircuts, a lot of grooming and style-related products, that’s definitely increased,” said Klein. “For someone who is trying to maintain my appearance, I’m more mindful of that element.”

Central banks, including the Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve, have raised interest rates abruptly to try to tame the price hikes, but that is also hurting people like Klein and thousands of other post-secondary graduates who are trying to pay off debts.

Klein has so far managed to pay back about half of his U.S. dollar-denominated debt since returning to Canada, but the interest rate he pays on it has moved up to 5.5 per cent recently, after dipping as low as 3.1 per cent previously.

Meanwhile, wages at his restaurant job haven’t increased at nearly the same rate as everything else, and the weaker Canadian dollar relative to the greenback is adding to the crunch.

“I feel less free in a way,” Klein said. “A lot of the cheap ways of living and wandering about in your 20s don't really exist in the same way.”

Young people are feeling the pinch of inflation more than their older counterparts, as the ever-increasing cost of living in Toronto is forcing some to rethink their plans. #Inflation

Consumer inflation hit 8.1 per cent year over year in June, Statistics Canada said, its largest yearly change since 1983. The acceleration from a 7.7 per cent increase in May was mostly due to higher gas prices, although seven of eight major components rose by at least three per cent. Excluding gasoline, the Consumer Price Index rose 6.5 per cent year over year in June, following a 6.3 per cent increase in May.

Rent relief in Montreal

Spencer Hunt wasn’t exactly forced out of Toronto by the high cost of living, but he and his girlfriend will be getting much more bang for their buck when they relocate to Montreal next month after she got accepted as a master's student at McGill University.

After dual work-from-home jobs became too much for their $1,450-a month, one-bedroom basement apartment in Bloordale, the pair moved to a nearby two-bedroom in early 2021 that cost $1,880 a month.

Hunt can keep doing his job providing technical support for medical imaging software in Montreal, where the pair have found a larger place for less than $1,800 in the Plateau-Mont Royal neighbourhood.

Spencer Hunt and his girlfriend are moving to Montreal for her schooling and have found a bigger place to stay for less. Photo supplied by Spencer Hunt

“It’s a bigger apartment than this one is; it's two bedrooms as well, but there's a living room — we don’t have that here — in a nicer location, relatively closer to downtown than where we live now,” he said.

Hunt does most of the grocery shopping and has noticed the spike in prices, and also says it is harder to justify going out to socialize with friends these days.

“It's kind of hard because after the pandemic you want to go out to restaurants, get takeout, see people and hang out with them again, and it all adds up,” he said.

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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When my parents were in their university years, which would be in like the 60s, you could live in a crappy place, work at a low-end temporary job for a few months, and SAVE UP MONEY on which you could live while you went to university. Or if you were a couple, one could work while the other went to Uni. My parents counted their dimes (because that was the price of busfare) but they could do that.

When I was in my university years, in the 80s, you couldn't really do that, but you maybe could if you also did a part time job while taking courses. Chances were you might have to take out a student loan, but it would be small. I was lucky--lived with my parents, got some free scholarship tuition; in those days if you kept your GPA above a certain level your tuition was free. I got out with no debt.

Nowadays, you can live in a tiny crappy studio apartment, work full time at some crappy jobs, scrimp as well as you can, and still need to go to food banks. Forget saving up money for university, you can go deeper into debt just trying to exist. For someone who isn't well off and can't live with their parents to go to university, they're gonna have to take out a student loan so massive it's like having a mortgage.

Things keep getting worse generation by generation. We often don't notice because as we get older, we get better jobs, eventually pay off debts, and so at an individual level life gets better or at least keeps pace even if things are getting worse overall. But what we don't realize is that the starting position keeps getting crappier, every generation has to run faster and faster to get less and less.

Makes you wonder--who has all the dough? Productivity keeps increasing, it's not like society overall is generating less wealth per person. But, oh, right, there are people now with more than a hundred billion dollars.

Hmmm. I went to university in the 60s, and it was possible only because I got the maximum student loan available, had scholarships and some savings from a summer job, and worked part-time during the school year as well. No student grants back then, no interest-free period on the student loan.
Things were indeed less expensive, but minimum wage in relation to average earnings or the cost of necessities was considerably less than at later times. Minimum wage didn't apply to salaried employees: my first full-time job paid the equivalent of $1.15/hr.
Busfare in Vancouver then was 25 cents a ride; transfers worked one way.
Student living included sharing a bedroom (often a bed) with a roommate, two more sharing the second bedroom. We ate from the likes of yogurt containers and carefully washed foil containers from Chinese take-out, until we were out of school, and even then there were minimum payments to be made on that student loan: missing one meant the whole thing became due & payable: no exceptions, no excuses.
Landlords' behaviour was almost always uniformly awful: tenants' protections were minimal, and landlords never returned the security deposits.
There were no tax credits for students then either: scholarships (merit-based money) were taxable; bursaries (help for low-income students) were not -- but you had to find them, and compete for them, and most disqualified scholarship winners from receiving "more money."
There *were* fee reductions for "good marks" ... First Class average 86%+ with nothing below I think it was 70%) qualified for a 1/2 fees reduction, and Second Class (Average 75%+ and nothing below ISTR 60%) qualified for a 1/3 fees reduction, and the reductions were maintained if the academic performance was.

I'm not complaining: it was at the beginning of the time when kids from working-class families could *go* to university, because of the then new Canada Student Loan program. In a time when many parents would support the education of boys (better ROI in terms of future income), girls considered themselves really lucky to be able to *go* to university, at all!
At that time in the entire UBS medical school, there was one female student: or maybe that was in the first year of the program. But it was a tiny minority. Ditto with law school, and females in engineering were virtually unheard of.

I'm glad of the changes in norms that happened largely because of the availability of student loans, as well.

It's my observation that people make very good money, these days, in construction trades. Teachers and nurses make much better money than they used to, compared to other reasonably attainable work.

I was debt-free, for a very short period of time before buying a house and raising a family. Still paying a thrice re-financed mortgage in my mid-70s, which is thankfully now cheaper than rent.

The business owners get all the dough, and when it's a corporation listed on the stock exchange, the investors and the executive take it all. And continually do their best to displace workers with machines, because of some business school saw that claims workers are too expensive.

What no one tells ppl starting out on "a little business venture" is that after all the taxes, levies and fees, it's a lot harder to earn a living that way than one might expect. That's why ppl wind up burning themselves out to grow the little biz, and then to get over the declining profit rate after having to increase staffing and/or space in order to do that.

(And tax law / pension law discriminates against lower-income business owners, as well).

Fully half of all the inflation, I gather, is just the gas prices. If young people can avoid driving more than the old (and they are obviously better candidates for bikes and scooters, and jogging to the train), then they can skip half right there. Food inflation is mostly pretty easy to dodge by just eating healthy, though the young may have less time to cook. Nearly everybody spends double on food what they would, if they just bought whole grains and vegetables and beans, like vegans do.