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Median after-tax household income grew 9.8 per cent to $73,000 in 2020 from 2015 – much faster than the 4.5 per cent growth from 2010 to 2015

Fewer Canadians received employment income in 2020 when COVID-19 upended the labour market, but pandemic support programs more than offset losses for many households, bolstering take-home pay and reducing income inequality, new census results show.

There were roughly 114,000 fewer Canadian adults who received employment income in 2020 than in 2019, with median work earnings falling 2.1 per cent to $37,200. The losses were steepest in Alberta (6.3 per cent), Newfoundland and Labrador (6 per cent) and Saskatchewan (4.2 per cent) as those provinces faced the added stress of cratering resource prices.

The pandemic, which led to millions of layoffs in the spring of 2020, wiped out recent growth in work earnings, Statistics Canada said on Wednesday. The median family employment income was roughly the same in 2020 as in 2015, after adjustments for inflation.

But in spite of those economic headwinds, many Canadians wound up in a better financial position in 2020, at least temporarily. Median household after-tax income grew 9.8 per cent to $73,000 from 2015 – much faster than 4.5-per-cent growth from 2010 to 2015.

“After-tax household income is the measure of income that most closely captures the overall economic well-being of Canadians, reflecting how much money families have to support their consumption, investment and savings needs,” Statscan explained.

The census results offer a snapshot of an economy that was reeling from the pandemic, with millions of people relying on temporary benefit programs that were quickly thrown together by policy makers to protect households from financial ruin.

It was the third of seven release dates for 2021 census results. In addition to income, Statscan published results on households and the military on Wednesday, the former of which showed that people are increasingly living with roommates amid home affordability concerns.

Statscan said the acceleration in after-tax income growth was because of pandemic relief programs that compensated for earnings losses, along with increases in child benefits. Indeed, government transfers to households surged by 69 per cent from 2015 to 2020, reaching $284-billion.

The census results showed that more than two-thirds of Canadians received income from one or more pandemic support programs. Nearly 28 per cent of adults received federal emergency and recovery benefits, most often through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provided $2,000 every four weeks to workers seriously affected by COVID-19.

Among the 7.6 million recipients of CERB, the median benefit was $8,000. The maximum that could be received was $14,000. Once it expired in the fall of 2020, CERB was replaced by the Canada Recovery Benefit, which had the same monthly payouts for much of its existence.

The bottom of the income distribution was jolted by the support. Around 1.8 million fewer Canadians had earnings plus benefits of $14,999 or less in 2020 than in 2019. Subsequently, around 1.55 million more Canadians had earnings plus benefits of $15,000 to $59,999.

Because of the $2,000 monthly payments from CERB, “a lot of people basically got bumped up in their earnings, instead of having incredibly low earnings,” said Tammy Schirle, an economics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. “More of them ended up with earnings closer to $20,000 and $30,000 a year.”

It was not only CERB providing support. About 56 per cent of adults received top-ups to existing federal programs, such as one-time payments to eligible seniors. As well, the median Canada Child Benefit received by families was $5,880 in 2020 – up from $4,160 in 2015.

In turn, income inequality fell during the census period, and the percentage of Canadians living with low income dropped to 11.1 per cent in 2020 from 14.4 per cent in 2015. It was the largest decline in any five-year period since 1976. (The thresholds for low income depend on household size. For a one-person household, low income after tax is below $26,503.)

At a regional level, the resource-rich provinces showed signs of struggle. Median household after-tax income fell in Alberta (4.6 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador (1.3 per cent) between 2015 and 2020, while Saskatchewan (2.8 per cent) notched the smallest increase of the provinces. Statscan tied their outcomes to tumbling commodity prices in 2020.

Despite the setback, households in Alberta continue to have the highest median after-tax income among the provinces, as they did in 2015.

Prof. Schirle said the income statistics were “frustrating for researchers” because they reflect the first year of a pandemic that skewed earnings, rather than show long-term trends.

Statscan cautioned that some of the “striking developments” in the census – such as strong growth in after-tax income and the lower poverty rate – “are not expected to continue in 2021 and 2022 because the driving force behind the recent movements was temporary in nature.”

CHANGE IN MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD

AFTER-TAX INCOME, 2015 TO 2020

By census division

Decrease

Increase

-5

0

5

10

15%

Alta.

Sask.

Man.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Ont.

Que.

PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION

BELOW THE AFTER-TAX LOW-INCOME

MEASURE IN 2020

By census division

5

10

15

20%

Alta.

Sask.

Man.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Ont.

Que.

Note: for a one-person household, the after-tax low-income measure is $26,503. For larger households, this amount is adjusted upward by multiplying it by the square root of household size.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA, 2021 CENSUS

CHANGE IN MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD

AFTER-TAX INCOME, 2015 TO 2020

By census division

Decrease

Increase

-5

0

5

10

15%

Alta.

Sask.

Man.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Ont.

Que.

PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION

BELOW THE AFTER-TAX LOW-INCOME

MEASURE IN 2020

By census division

5

10

15

20%

Alta.

Sask.

Man.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Ont.

Que.

Note: for a one-person household, the after-tax low-income measure is $26,503. For larger households, this amount is adjusted upward by multiplying it by the square root of household size.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA, 2021 CENSUS

CHANGE IN MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD AFTER-TAX INCOME, 2015 TO 2020

By census division

Decrease

Increase

-5

0

5

10

15%

Ont.

Que.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Alta.

Sask.

N.L.

Man.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

N.S.

N.B.

PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION BELOW THE AFTER-TAX

LOW-INCOME MEASURE IN 2020

By census division

5

10

15

20%

Ont.

Que.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Alta.

Sask.

N.L.

Man.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

N.S.

N.B.

Note: for a one-person household, the after-tax low-income measure is $26,503. For larger households, this amount is adjusted upward by multiplying it by the square root of household size.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA, 2021 CENSUS

CHANGE IN MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD AFTER-TAX INCOME, 2015 TO 2020

By census division

Decrease

Increase

-5

0

5

10

15%

Ont.

Que.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Alta.

Sask.

N.L.

Man.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

N.S.

N.B.

PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION BELOW THE AFTER-TAX

LOW-INCOME MEASURE IN 2020

By census division

5

10

15

20%

Ont.

Que.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Alta.

Sask.

N.L.

Man.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

N.S.

N.B.

Note: for a one-person household, the after-tax low-income measure is $26,503. For larger households, this amount is adjusted upward by multiplying it by the square root of household size.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA, 2021 CENSUS

CHANGE IN MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD AFTER-TAX INCOME, 2015 TO 2020

By census division

Decrease

Increase

-5

0

5

10

15%

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Alta.

N.L.

Sask.

Man.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

N.S.

N.B.

PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION BELOW THE AFTER-TAX

LOW-INCOME MEASURE IN 2020

By census division

5

10

15

20%

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Grey areas

are sparsely

populated

Alta.

N.L.

Sask.

Man.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

N.S.

N.B.

Note: for a one-person household, the after-tax low-income measure is $26,503. For larger households, this amount is adjusted upward by multiplying it by the square root of household size.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA, 2021 CENSUS

How Canadians live has been changing, with more people home alone or sharing with roommates, according to the latest census data.

The figures paint a picture of an evolving household over a time of sharply increasing real estate costs and a continuing greying of the population. And the new data suggest the country could experience a growing mismatch between how Canadians live and the housing stock available in their communities.

The growth in living alone has been driven by an aging population, which is expected to continue. But people living solo predominantly reside in apartments – which are forbidden by zoning across the bulk of the land area of most Canadian municipalities – while multiperson households are more likely to live in detached houses.

The 2021 census also shows that while the 57 per cent of Canadians who were living as a couple is nearly the same percentage as the 58 per cent a century earlier, the overall numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Younger adults were less likely to be living as a couple, and the median age of couples rose. The number of common-law couples has soared by 447 per cent since 1981. And in this census release, for the first time, Statscan counted how many couples included at least one transgender or non-binary person.

Such pairings made up approximately 0.37 per cent of the total number of couples. Once gay couples are included, that rose to 1.5 per cent.

The fastest-growing type of Canadian household over the past five years was people living with those who are not a spouse, partner or in their immediate family.

These “roommate households” grew 14 per cent over since 2016, compared with 4-per-cent growth among households of a family without additional people. This was driven by people aged 20 to 34, whose roommate-household status grew by 20 per cent since the previous census.

“Especially when we’re seeing that these roommate households are growing fast in some of the large urban centres, we can certainly think that it is a strategy to cope with housing affordability and also the cost of living,” said Laurent Martel, Statscan’s director of demography.

Despite their rapid growth, roommate households remained a small part of the overall housing mix, at only 4 per cent of the total.

The proportion of young adults living with their parents remained unchanged at 35 per cent. But that group aged, with the share of them over 25 having increased since the 2016 census from 38 per cent to 46 per cent.

The largest single type of household remained those living solo. It became the dominant type in the 2016 census for the first time in the country’s history, at 28 per cent, and swelled slightly in the latest count.

According to the 2021 census, 29 per cent of households were people living alone. Statscan attributes that largely to the aging population and notes that the proportion of solo dwellers is still smaller than any G7 country other than the United States. In some European countries, the share of solo dwellers exceeds 40 per cent.

The agency also said that senior women were less likely to be living alone at home. In 2001, 60 per cent of women older than 85 were in this situation, compared with 53 per cent in the latest census. This was attributed to a converging of life expectancies between men and women. As a result, more couples have been able to age together.

However, within a younger demographic, the prevalence of solo dwelling has doubled. Among those aged 35 to 44, living alone grew from 5 per cent in 1981 to 10 per cent in the most recent count.

“This trend may reflect … postponing family formation,” Statscan said in its census release Wednesday, which cited also factors including “urbanization, changing lifestyle preferences and the growth of high-rise apartments offering single-person dwellings.”

Canadian veterans, particularly women, have been significantly more likely than the general public to live alone, according to new census data that detail current and past military service for the first time in 50 years.

The data from Statscan also show that women made up nearly one-fifth of service personnel. Transgender and non-binary people were represented in the military at the same proportion as they are in the Canadian population at large, according to the data.

The 2021 census was the first time since 1971 that Statscan has asked about military service, which it said will fill data gaps about the lives of active and former soldiers and inform policies around helping them transition into civilian life.

Last year’s census counted nearly 98,000 active service members and over 461,000 veterans, with the average age of personnel being five years younger than that of the working population – 36.2 compared with 41.9.

Women, who made up 19.3 per cent of service members, tended to be older than their male counterparts on average, and represented a higher percentage of all service members in all age brackets over 30 to 34. Transgender service members made up just 0.1 per cent of the total military population, which mirrored that of the general population. Non-binary service members were slightly more represented amongst service members than in the Canadian population (0.2 per cent compared with 0.1 per cent).

About 23 per cent of all veterans live alone, with higher numbers among women (28.1 per cent) compared with men (22.2 per cent). Veterans tend to live alone at higher rates than all Canadians older than 17 (16.9 for women and 14.7 for men), and that rate increases significantly with age, with four in five female vets aged 55 and older living alone, compared with three in four of male vets in the same age bracket.

This is in contrast to 70.2 per cent of women and 51.8 per cent of men aged 55 in the total Canadian population who live alone. The data also show 3.6 per cent of all veterans live in collective dwellings, nearly all in health care settings, compared with 2.1 per cent of the total population.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor with the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, said the issue of loneliness for veterans is just one piece of a larger problem with how the military recruits and supports its members.

“This is unfortunately only one manifestation of a broader challenge of making sure that people who join the CAF continue to benefit from the organization after they leave,” Dr. Leuprecht said.

He noted the Canadian Forces is actively attempting to deal with the issue of “tight coupling” – a psychological phenomena often observed in militaries and police forces in which service members become so enmeshed with an organization’s structure that they lose sense of their own identity.

Dr. Leuprecht said veterans who are of lower rank or work in less front-facing roles may struggle with release from the military and retirement from service more than high-ranking members in bureaucratic, managerial or officer positions, as they are less likely to have a robust network to lean on for socialization and work opportunities afterward.

“There’s nobody within National Defence or Veterans Affairs that is surprised by the data,” he said. “It reflects an organization that has been too slow at changing relative to the societal needs of its members.”

A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said it would “absolutely” be using the data to help improve conditions for active service members and veterans alike.

Marc Lescoutre, spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada, said in an e-mail that the department welcomed the inclusion of questions about military service on last year’s census, which he said will inform programs for veterans and their families.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story was missing the name of the town of Oromocto, New Brunswick. The story has been corrected.

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