Canadian Family Incomes
Falling - Worse Than
20 Years Ago
By Sandra Cordon
Canadian Press
OTTAWA (CP) -- Does it feel like you're working harder but just can't seem to get ahead? StatsCan says you may be right.
The average household is no wealthier than it was 20 years ago, according to figures released Wednesday by Statistics Canada.
Household incomes, on average, were $50,672 in 1997 before taxes were deducted or government benefits factored in, the agency said.
That's actually a few bucks less than 1978 levels of $50,707 -- even though there were far fewer dual-income families in the 1970s than today.
All the figures are adjusted to 1997 dollars, StatsCan said.
Families are working longer and harder, yet finding it increasingly difficult to get ahead, say economists and researchers who study family issues.
"In real terms, the standard of living of Canadians has fallen in the '90s, so we're now no better off than we were 20 years ago," labour economist Jim Stanford said from Halifax.
"That is an incredible condemnation of the way our economy is working, because our economy is far more productive than it was 20 years ago and more Canadians are working."
Poor families are becoming poorer as government programs, from welfare to employment insurance, are cut, the report suggested.
The number of children in low-income families jumped 37 per cent between 1989 and 1997, even though the number of kids in Canada grew only six per cent over the same period.
Even top income earners lost a bit of ground in 1997, possibly due to lower interest rates eroding investment and retirement income.
Governments should strengthen laws governing employment equity, union organizing and minimum wages to promote better pay for workers, said Stanford, economist with the Canadian Auto Workers Union.
Given the 1997 boom in the Canadian economy, it's especially strange that average family income actually slid a bit compared with the year before, said Andrew Sharpe of Ottawa's Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
"One would hope that with strong economic growth, one would reverse this trend (of flat family incomes) but the numbers are certainly surprising."
Gross domestic product jumped 3.8 per cent in 1997, compared with the more sedate pace of three per cent growth last year.
Yet, average household income after taxes and government aid totalled $57,146 in 1997 -- almost $400 less than 1996's $57,416.
The drop came despite the fact more Canadians were working in 1997, when employment jumped almost two per cent.
At the same time, average hours worked per week grew by 30 minutes to 37.9 hours in 1997.
And the number of two-income households has skyrocketed -- from 30 per cent of Canadian families 30 years ago, to 70 per cent today.
But many jobs created in recent years have been low-paying, either part-time work and self-employment, said Sharpe. At the same time, wages have been almost stagnant.
Part of the problem may be excessive expectations by individuals and the economy, suggested Robert Glossop of the Vanier Institute of the Family.
Consumer demand is essential to economic growth, driving about two-thirds of the Canada's GDP.
Yet, we can't afford to keep spending at the levels we became accustomed to in the post-First World War boom, he said.
"To suggest that we're greedy, yes, but we do live in an economy that manipulates our appetites as consumers."
"But if we do not continue to increase our appetites as consumers, then the whole economy starts to shake."