Could be worse: Family income stays steady

TheGlobeandMail.com – report-on-business/economy/economy-lab
Published Monday, Jun. 18 2012.

The median income of Canadian families held steady in the 2008-to-2010 period, a contrast to the plunge in wealth south of the border.

Median after-tax income for families of two or more people was $65,500 in 2010, unchanged from 2009 and the third straight year of little change in after-tax income, Statistics Canada said Monday.

It’s a far cry from what happened in the U.S., where median income tumbled 7.7 per cent between 2007 and 2010, and median net worth plunged 38.8 per cent to 1992 levels amid to falling real-estate values, the Federal Reserve said last week (note, its analysis encompasses 2007).

“This is one of the few times where stagnation looks good, comparatively,” said social policy analyst John Stapleton.

In Canada, the annual examination of incomesfound two-parent families with kids and families led by single moms fared a little better in 2010 from a year earlier, while seniors did a little worse.

Two-parent families with children had a median after-tax income of $78,800 in 2010 (up from $77,200 a year earlier). The median for female lone-parent families was $38,700 (from $38,200), while families headed by a senior had a median after-tax income of $46,800 (down from $47,800).

Medians refer to the level of income at which half of the population had higher income and half had lower.

The findings underscore the relative stability the Canadian economy has seen in recent years, with climbing house prices and fairly steady employment gains. It’s not all rosy though – Canadian households are carrying record debt levels, partly due to pricier houses, an accumulation the Bank of Canada says is the No. 1 domestic risk to the economy.

The number of Canadians in lower-income status also held steady. Three million Canadians, or 9 per cent of the population, fall into the low-income cut-off, similar to 2009 though an improvement from 12.5 per cent proportion in 2000.

More than half a million children – or 546,000 kids aged 17 and under – lived in low-income families in 2010. The percentage, at 8.1 per cent, was unchanged from 2009 but a lower level than in 2000, when it was 13.8 per cent.

About one in five kids in families led by a single mother were low income.

More Canadians are receiving government transfers. Almost 20 million people over the age of 16 got some form of government transfer in 2010 – an 11.7-per-cent increase from 2009.

The study also looked at income mobility, and found more Canadians are moving up the ladder than down. Between 2009 and 2010, 16.2 per cent of people moved up to a higher income bracket relative to their position a year earlier, while 14.8 per cent moved down, the agency said.

Across the provinces, there was little change in median after-tax incomes for families. Alberta has – by far – the highest median, at $78,100.

All income estimates in Monday’s report are expressed in constant 2010 dollars to factor in inflation and allow comparisons across time in real terms. The release includes revisions for 2006 to 2009.

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