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This grandmother works gruelling 70-hour weeks just to pay the bills. And she’s not alone

Kelly Young is among a growing population of Canadians who work multiple jobs to pay for life's essentials, as the rising cost of food, fuel and shelter squeezes their budgets to a breaking point.

Kelly Young part of ballooning demographic forced to find second job

A woman stands in doorway

This is Part 1 of The Grind, a new series from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador on people who are working multiple jobs to offset the rising cost of living.

Kelly Young plucks a vacuum-sealed packet of ground beef from her fridge. For once, she has time to cook. She'll have dinner ready by the time her husband is home from a long day.

"I'll make steaks out of that," she says, pointing to the hamburger meat and smiling as if to say, it's better than nothing at all.

Wry humour — and unrelenting optimism — are helping Young survive the post-COVID economy that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have found themselves in.

That, and a superhuman work ethic: Young is clocking 70-hour weeks to maintain her standard of living, moonlighting as a server after long days at her St. John's office, where she's an administrator for a small engineering company.

But even juggling three jobs in a two-person household, the Youngs hardly have wiggle room after the bills are paid.

"You're always kind of falling behind," Young says wearily. "Right to the point where you're robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Young is among a growing population of Canadians who work multiple jobs to pay for life's essentials. A Statistics Canada report in August painted a bleak picture of personal finance in 2023: one in three people who work more than one job now do it because they need to, in order to pay for food and shelter, as opposed to doing so by choice.

Just four years ago, that number was one in five.

A woman holds up frozen meat

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a potent cocktail of inflation and rising interest rates even prompted the premier to send an open letter to the Bank of Canada in September, pleading with governor Tiff Macklem to halt rate increases.

"The continued raising of interest rates from the Bank of Canada is … significantly impacting homeowners with mortgages, those aspiring to become first-time home buyers, those looking to rent, students, seniors, families, and businesses," Furey wrote. "Families and businesses cannot afford the crushing impact of any further interest rate hikes."

In the House of Assembly in October, PC MHA Barry Petten told the legislature he'd just gotten a call from a family looking for a fourth and fifth job to support their children. "They're not looking for luxury," Petten said. "They're just trying to feed their kids."

An Abacus Data poll of 500 respondents in Newfoundland and Labrador, published last month, also delivered grave news: 77 per cent of people surveyed said they were either living paycheque to paycheque or falling into debt.

WATCH | Kelly Young reveals the impact of the rising cost of living on her family:

​In the prime of her life, this woman had to take another job — just to pay the bills

7 days ago

Duration 4:02

Featured VideoKelly Young says the rising cost of living has cut deeply into her household's income, and the family's well-being. Malone Mullin tells her story in the first instalment of the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador series The Grind.

Living is more expensive these days.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, on average — for all items listed in the Consumer Price Index — it's exactly 4.1 per cent more expensive than last fall, and 25 per cent more costly than a decade ago. Food, shelter and energy are the primary culprits.

It's all led to a squeeze for those who used to comfortably make ends meet.

"Living a middle-class life has been our whole lives," Young says. "You pay your rent, you pay your mortgage, you pay your bills."

But these days, those same expenses haunt her. "All you think about is your income," she says. It would keep her awake in bed, tossing and fretting.

"I think that's when I realized I needed to find a second position," she says. "Just to top up my income and to pay those bills comfortably, so I can go to sleep at night."

'A shock to our systems'

It's a story so common for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians it seems almost like a prototype.

The Youngs left Newfoundland for better paying jobs, heading west and settling in Alberta for four years after Young's husband, a sheet metal worker, was laid off in Newfoundland. "The economy up there was so good," Young recalls. "Taxes are much lower. Gas price is $0.89 a litre. Like, you can't beat that."

But family brought them back home when Young's oldest daughter had her first grandchild. "Coming back here after COVID and the cost of everything skyrocketing, it was actually a shock to our systems," she says.

A customer browses beef and other meat selections at a Colemans grocery store in St. John's.

She's job-hopped since returning to the island, always trading up for a higher salary, better benefits. But with their rent in Flatrock at $1,800 a month, and her daughters sometimes needing a hand, there was little Young could do except work more.

She picked up a serving job on weekends and evenings. Without it, "there would not be any extras," she says. Not fresh food, or even takeout on a Friday evening. Certainly no more Sunday drives.

"When you go get groceries, you're definitely not buying steak," she says. "You're definitely not buying those extra veggies that you could before. You were buying things that you could really learn to spread out."

Young pauses, then smiles.

"There'd be more hot dogs on our dinner plate," she says.

Burnout has societal costs, says economist

Overwork causes a ripple effect, says Lars Osberg, an economist at Dalhousie University.

Sometimes, people take on extra jobs because they want to save for a big expense, or work at something they enjoy.

But "it's a fundamentally different situation if that's what you have to do to make ends meet," Osberg says. "And that's what more and more people of normal working age, that's the situation they find themselves in more and more often these days."

Overwork leads to stress within families and higher rates of divorce. It leaves little time for families to connect.

"When people who are juggling all these jobs can't participate in community activities, can't take care of their kids … it has big costs for society in general."

Young can attest. The long hours are already cutting into precious moments with her family. "Quality time? You almost need to write it in the schedule book," she says.

A woman gets into a white car

Young and her husband are "like two ships passing in the night," she says. There's no time to relax together; Sundays, the day they used to spend lounging, are now filled with errands and chores. It's often the only time to get groceries and clean their clothes.

"When you don't see each other as much as you would like, it is difficult," she says.

"To come home after a long day at work and he's already in bed. You get your shower and get cleaned up and you jump in and … you feel that cuddle next to you and that warmth. You know, it's everything. And that kind of gives you the reason to know what you're doing, why you're doing it. To have that to come home to."

A woman looks into a fridge

Young's grateful she's not experiencing the kind of hardship now battering the lower income brackets. A social butterfly by nature, she even finds serving fulfilling. Her second job is a way to avoid downsizing, and to afford the small extras that, for Young, make life worth living.

But she's tired. And never thought she'd be in her mid-50s, toiling away, watching her loved ones just try to tread water. Her daughter works two jobs, too, she says.

"But why should she have to? It's my question, right?" Young says.

"The cost of everything is just so severe that the kids are not living these days. All they're doing is working to survive."

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