Almost half of the country’s workers say they are living paycheque to paycheque and more than one-third are feeling crushed by their debt loads.

An annual survey of employees by the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) paints a bleak picture on the personal finance front, with 24 per cent of those surveyed saying they probably could not come up with $2,000 in the event an emergency arose within the next month.

More than one-third of respondents – 36 per cent – said they feel overwhelmed by their level of debt and 12 per cent indicated they doubt they will ever be completely free of debt.

Forty-eight per cent of those surveyed said it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their paycheque were delayed just one week, up slightly from the annual poll’s average of 47 per cent over the past three years.

The report, released Wednesday, comes in the wake of economic data indicating Canada experienced two consecutive quarters of contraction – technically speaking, a recession – although home sales in August (except in Alberta) were strong and a report last week showed 12,000 net jobs were created last month.

The overall jobless rate, however, remains stubbornly high at 7 per cent.

“Canadians are saying they are still having a difficult time making ends meet and they are not putting enough aside to reach their own retirement goals,” said CPA chief executive officer Patrick Culhane.

While 62 per cent of respondents said they are able to meet their savings goals, 47 per cent said are putting away only 5 per cent or less of their net pay, in stark contrast to the recommended retirement savings rate of at least 10 per cent of net pay.

More than one-third – 35 per cent – of those polled said they expect to work longer than they had initially planned five years ago, with their average retirement age target having risen to age 63 from 58 over that time period.

Three-quarters of respondents – 76 per cent – said they have squirrelled away less than one-quarter of what they will need in retirement, up slightly from an average of 74 per cent over the past three years.

Among those 50 and above, 48 per cent stated they are less than one-quarter of the way to reaching their nest egg goal.

But half think they will need more than $1-million in savings to retire comfortably, according to the poll.

When it comes to expectations, 33 per cent said they anticipate that the economy will improve over the next year, down from an average of 41 per cent over the past three years, and 27 per cent see the economy worsening, up from the three-year average of 17 per cent.

The online survey is based on responses from 3,605 employees from different industry sectors across Canada. The poll was conducted between June 29 and Aug. 7 by Framework Partners, a market research and strategic planning firm.

CPA says the survey is consistent with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, “but as a non-probabilistic methodology was used, a definitive margin of error cannot be expressed.”

MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Sep. 09, 2015 6:26AM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Sep. 09, 2015 8:28AM EDT