Canada’s in­come growth misses On­tario

Cen­sus finds house­hold earn­ings up 10.8%, but more are now liv­ing with low in­comes


Af­ter grow­ing up in a mid­dle-class home in Ed­mon­ton, Pa­tri­cia Hu­cu­lak moved to Toron­to11years ago to es­cape a vi­o­lent spouse and has strug­gled with poverty and home­less­ness ever since.

But things are fi­nally look­ing up for the 47-year-old sin­gle mother. In July, Hu­cu­lak be­gan re­ceiv­ing a $500 monthly hous­ing al­lowance through a re­cently beefed-up fed­eral-pro­vin­cial home­less­ness pre­ven­tion pro­gram that has al­lowed her to rent a one-bed­room apart­ment close to pub­lic tran­sit.

Next week, she will grad­u­ate from a 12-week ad­vo­cacy pro­gram that has given her the con­fi­dence to ap­ply for a well-pay­ing job with the city of Toronto as a street out­reach worker, where she hopes to put her life ex­pe­ri­ence to work help­ing oth­ers.

And her daugh­ter Alicha, 13, a bud­ding track star, is try­ing out for a girls bas­ket­ball team that plays com­pet­i­tively through­out south­ern On­tario.

“It used to be ev­ery day get­ting up and ask­ing, ‘where am I go­ing to get the next meal and how am I go­ing to get shoes for my daugh­ter?’ ” Hu­cu­lak says. “But I’m breath­ing a lit­tle eas­ier. For the first time in a long time, I have hope.”

Cana­dian in­comes have risen by more than 10 per cent over the past decade, fu­elled by a boom­ing re­source sec­tor, while the num­ber liv­ing on low in­comes is ris­ing in On­tario, where growth has been slug­gish, Statis­tics Canada says.

How­ever, the agency cau­tions that cen­sus re­sults do not ac­count for the sharp drop-off in oil prices that hit the econ­omy and stalled the re­source sec­tor in 2015 and 2016. As well, the On­tario econ­omy has started to re­bound, show­ing strong growth in the first quar­ter and low un­em­ploy­ment.

New data from the 2016 cen­sus re­veals that the me­dian in­come for Cana­dian house­holds rose to $70,336 in 2015, up10.8 per cent from $63,457 in 2005.

The jump is at­trib­uted to high re­source prices that at­tracted in­vest­ment and work­ers to Al­berta, Saskatchewan and New­found­land, pumped up the con­struc­tion sec­tor and saw wealth fil­ter through the econ­omy, Statis­tics Canada said Wed­nes­day.

The pic­ture wasn’t so rosy in On­tario, where the down­turn in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor slowed in­come growth and the pro­por­tion of low­in­come res­i­dents has been on the rise.

The me­dian in­come in On­tario was $74,287 in 2015, up just 3.8 per cent over the past decade, the slow­est growth of any prov­ince or ter­ri­tory dur­ing that time.

From 2005 to 2015, al­most ev­ery met­ro­pol­i­tan cen­tre in On­tario saw be­low-av­er­age in­come growth, com­pared to the boom­ing Prairies, where in­comes rose above av­er­age. The Greater Toronto Area had a me­dian in­come of $78,373 in 2015, up 3.3 per cent. In the GTA, Oakville had the high­est me­dian in­come at $113,666. The city of Toronto had the low­est at $65,829.

The last decade has also seen a rise in low-in­come rates in On­tario’s ur­ban cen­tres, led by Lon­don (17 per cent, up from 13 per cent) and Wind­sor (17.5 per cent, up from 14 per cent).

The Toronto re­gion’s low-in­come rate rose to 15.6 per cent from 14.1per cent a decade ear­lier.

Na­tion­wide, the low-in­come rate edged up slightly over the decade to 14.2 per cent in 2015, from14 per cent. For chil­dren, the low-in­come rate was also sta­ble but higher at 17.1 per cent, up from 17 per cent in 2005.

“We see a rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity in low in­come. That means in this pe­riod of growth, peo­ple aren’t fall­ing fur­ther be­hind. But they aren’t nec­es­sar­ily catch­ing up ei­ther,” An­drew Heisz, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of in­come statis­tics di­vi­sion at Statis­tics Canada, said in an in­ter­view.

“A de­cline in the low-in­come rate is pos­si­ble if in­comes of lower-in­come per­sons are ris­ing faster than the me­dian. But that hasn’t been the case here,” he said.

(Statis­tics Canada de­fines a low-in­come house­hold as one hav­ing less than half of the me­dian in­come of all house­holds. For a one-per­son house­hold, the af­ter-tax low in­come mea­sure was $22,133 in 2015. For a fam­ily of four it was $44,266.)

That means 4.8 mil­lion Cana­di­ans were liv­ing on low in­comes in 2015, 1.2 mil­lion of them chil­dren, in­clud­ing al­most 490,000 in On­tario.

How­ever, Statis­tics Canada says the pro­por­tion of low-in­come chil­dren has been drop­ping since the mid-1990s, thanks in part to govern­ment pro­grams. The av­er­age child ben­e­fit re­ceived by fam­i­lies has nearly dou­bled since the mid-1990s, the agency says.

At the other end of the age scale, a larger pro­por­tion of Cana­di­ans 65 years and older were low in­come, ris­ing to 14.5 per cent in 2015 from 12 per cent in 2005, ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada.

Peter Mil­czyn, On­tario’s min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for poverty re­duc­tion ef­forts, said while the prov­ince’s econ­omy is strong “we know it’s not grow- ing equally for ev­ery­body.”

He noted the govern­ment’s ef­forts “to help peo­ple at the lower end of the in­come spec­trum to be able to af­ford a lot of the im­por­tant things in their lives,” such as more rental hous­ing, af­ford­able hous­ing, a com­ing boost to the min­i­mum wage, free tu­ition grants for post-sec­ondary stu­dents, as well as phar­ma­care for youth.

“There’s also the ba­sic in­come pi­lot that we are test­ing out in three com­mu­ni­ties as an­other mea­sure to look at how we can sup­port lower-in­come On­tar­i­ans,” he said. “But we also know that our econ­omy is grow­ing — we have job growth.”

But pro­vin­cial op­po­si­tion par­ties used the cen­sus re­sults to blast the On­tario Lib­eral govern­ment’s 13-year record.

“This re­port shows what fam­i­lies al­ready know — they’re be­ing squeezed,” said NDP eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment critic Catherine Fife. “House­hold costs have gone up un­der Kath­leen Wynne, but wages are be­ing held back.”

Jean-Yves Du­c­los, the fed­eral min­is­ter of fam­i­lies, chil­dren and so­cial de­vel­op­ment, said the cen­sus showed the needs across Canada “to work to­ward more re­silient economies.”

Du­c­los touted the Lib­er­als’ Canada Child Ben­e­fit for help­ing ease child poverty. He also cited ini­tia­tives on af­ford­able hous­ing, early learn­ing and child-care in­vest­ments, “which are go­ing to ben­e­fit all fam­i­lies . . . but, par­tic­u­larly, lower-in­come fam­i­lies.”

Cur­rent con­sul­ta­tions on a na­tional anti-poverty strat­egy should re­sult in clear goals, time­lines and pub­lic in­vest­ments, said Anita Khanna of Cam­paign 2000, a na­tional coali­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing to end child poverty.

In­dex­ing the Canada Child Ben­e­fit is key to en­sur­ing progress isn’t lost to in­fla­tion, she added. With files from Tonda Mac­Cha­rles and Kristin Rushowy

“In this pe­riod of growth, peo­ple aren’t fall­ing fur­ther be­hind. But they aren’t nec­es­sar­ily catch­ing up ei­ther.” AN­DREW HEISZ STATIS­TICS CANADA


Pa­tri­cia Hu­cu­lak and her daugh­ter, Alicha, have strug­gled with poverty, but a $500 monthly hous­ing al­lowance has helped sta­bi­lize their sit­u­a­tion.

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