Despite economic growth, job gains, family incomes remain stagnant

OTTAWA – The growing economy hasn’t done very much to boost Canadian incomes, a new report from Statistics Canada confirms.

The agency reported Monday that median, after-tax income for families of two or more amounted to $65,500 in 2010, virtually unchanged from 2009 or the year before after adjusting for inflation.

The result was slightly better for two-parent families with children. That segment saw median, after-tax income grow to $78,800 from $77,200 the year before.

There was no data from 2011, but weekly wages and other income reports suggest that there would likely be little improvement last year as well, analysts said.

That’s still a better record than what has occurred in the United States, where incomes have actually contracted, but economist Benjamin Tal of CIBC World Markets says Canadians should take little comfort.

“Something is not working here (in economy), this is not a positive report,” said Tal.

“Whenever we want to feel good we compare ourselves to the U.S. This is not good enough given where we are and given the nature of our economy, namely that we export commodities that the rest of the world is buying.”

Since the recession, Canada has added about 750,000 new jobs, but Tal said the median income data, and other reports, shows that those jobs have not been of high quality. The median is the level at which half the population had higher incomes and half lower, hence is considered a reliable indicator of the overall trend in the country.

Another factor restraining income growth, Tal said, has been poor productivity growth.

The latest reading follows a report last week that showed average household debt in relation to disposable income had risen to a record 152 per cent at the end of 2011. Statistics Canada noted that the rise in the debt ratio was not due to Canadians borrowing more, but to stagnant incomes.

“Growth in household disposable income slowed in the quarter as a result of a decline in household investment income and an increase in personal income taxes and other social contributions,” the agency explained.

The latest report finds a wide disparity on median after-tax income depending on where Canadians live.

At the upper end of the scale was Alberta at $78,100, followed by Saskatchewan, $70,100, and Ontario, $69,300. The Atlantic provinces and Quebec were at the low end, ranging from $56,300 in Newfoundland to $58,900 in New Brunswick.

After-tax income is the total of earnings, private pensions, income from investments and other sources, less income tax.

The median for female, lone-parent families was $38,700, while families headed by a senior had a median after-tax income of $46,800.

For singles, median after-tax income was also unchanged in 2010, with non-seniors at $27,500 and seniors at $23,400.