Double the income, same earning level for Calgarians

Family income in Calgary this decade has increased by nearly double the national average while the Alberta figure is nearly triple, states a Statistics Canada report.

But the numbers also show the province's boom and bust economy has sent incomes on a rollercoaster ride that's landed Albertans at virtually the same earning levels they enjoyed in 1980.

While median family incomes received a 7% boost from 2000 to 2005 compared to 3.7% nationally, individuals' earning power in Alberta has been virtually stagnant when set against the 1980 figures.

When adjusted for inflation, individuals' median income in 2005 was $43,964, only $232 more than in 1980, said senior StatsCan economist Rene Morissette.

"There was almost no change between 1980 and 2005 ... median earnings slid by $3,000 by 2000 and people have essentially just recovered that," said Morissette.

"If you take a longer-term approach, it's quite close to the national average."

That recovery and Alberta's outdistancing of the rest of the country this decade can be attributed to Alberta's petroleum-driven boom, he said.

But he said the 12.8% increase in median family incomes since 1980 was due to women increasingly entering the workforce.

"It's the only source of growth ... it makes for a time crunch and family work balance issues," said Morissette.

Gains by those in the upper and lower 20% income categories were about double those of middle-earners, the latter by far the largest sector, he added.

The figures confirm the worst fears over an increasingly squeezed middle class and workers whose longer hours are no longer being rewarded, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.

"If it wasn't for the income growth of the past five years Albertans would have lost ground and the rest of the country isn't even as lucky," said McGowan.

"Productivity gains have been decoupled from wage increases ... we're a middle-class society but the middle class is under attack."

McGowan said much of Alberta's current prosperity is more construction than oil-based and once the building is done, income will drop.

StatsCan also states 9.5% of Calgary families spent at least 55% of their incomes on lodging, food and clothing - classifying them as lower income and struggling.

"Policy-makers at all levels should see this as a warning sign," said McGowan.

Calgary Sun, Thurs May 1 2008
Byline: Bill Kaufmann

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