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B.C. earners lag despite boom

The booming B.C. economy is so far failing to translate into higher income for a large swath of residents, new census findings show.

Numbers released by Statistics Canada show median earnings of full-time workers in B.C. fell 11.3 per cent between 1980 and 2005, in contrast to national figures that held steady over the last 25 years and gains measured in other provinces.

Between 2000 and 2005, B.C. median earnings fell 3.4 per cent and now stand at $42,230, despite high job growth.

In Metro Vancouver, median income for full-time workers was $43,215.

While nurses have done well – their median earnings rose nearly 15 per cent since 2000 – restaurant and bar workers fared worst, with their incomes down 14.6 per cent.

And the steady decline in the forest industry and resulting mill closures across the province are also being cited as a factor.

“You’re seeing this transfer of good-paying manufacturing jobs outside the country,” B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said.

Entire paper machines and pulp mills in B.C. have been disassembled and sent to India or China, he said.

“Most people are struggling harder and harder to make ends meet.”

Combined family income, which also includes investment and retirement income and other government transfers, grew 1.8 per cent in B.C. in the five-year period – half the national rate and way off the 10 per cent gain in Alberta.

Median family income in B.C. is $65,787, the new stats show.

But Urban Futures demographer Andrew Ramlo says some of the numbers are deceptive.

The strong economy and low unemployment has led many workers – particularly the young – to flow back into B.C., he said.

Many of them have tended to get entry-level service jobs lower on the wage scale, which pulls down the median.

“It’s filled in a lot of incomes that are at the lower end of the scale,” Ramlo said.

Even in construction, he said, the influx of younger workers at the bottom wage rung pulls the stats lower.

Anyone who has had the same job for a number of years is not likely to be any worse off.

The numbers also show recent immigrants now earn only 63 cents for every dollar a Canadian-born citizen makes.

That wage gap has widened from 85 cents on the dollar in 1980.

But Ramlo said most of the change is the result of demographic shifts – while newer immigrants still tend to be young, the average Canadian earner is much older than in 1980 and typically at a higher pay scale.

Housing cost numbers are also now starting to surface from the 2006 census.

Average rents for Metro Vancouver are down from $975 (adjusted for inflation) in 1991 to $893 in 2006.

Lower Mainland tenants spend about 25 per cent of their income on rent, only marginally higher than the national average.

Homeowners in Abbotsford pay 18 per cent of their income toward total home ownership costs, the census found.

That was the highest of 14 major Canadian cities and ahead of Metro Vancouver at 17 per cent.

“It makes Abbotsford look like a really challenging place to live to support your mortgage,” he said, adding that seems counter-intuitive given the lower real estate prices in the eastern Fraser Valley.

Again the picture isn’t as clear as it seems.

Ramlo said young families most likely to go to the eastern Fraser Valley for suburban family-style housing are more likely to be earlier in careers with lower salaries – possibly with one spouse who works less or not at all to care for kids. As a result their homes eat up a higher share of their income.

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