‘One-percenters’ a throwback to the Canada of old, StatCan survey suggests

For all the growing diversity the 2011 census and related surveys have portrayed in Canada, Wednesday’s final release reveals a contrasting constant: the richest of the rich in Canada are married, middle-aged white men.

OTTAWA — For all the growing diversity the 2011 census and related surveys have portrayed in Canada, Wednesday’s final release reveals a contrasting constant: the richest of the rich in Canada are married, middle-aged white men.

The rest of us are up to our eyeballs in mortgage debt.

Statistics Canada has published the final batch of data from its new and controversial National Household Survey — the survey meant to stand in for the long-form census scrapped by the Conservatives in 2010. The release was delayed for a month due to a glitch in the agency’s formulae.

It shows that the median family income in Canada is $76,000 — generally higher in the West than the East — while the median individual income is just $27,600. That means just as many individuals earn less than $27,600 as earn more.

The richest 10 per cent of individuals are making more than $80,400. And the very rich — the 272,600 individuals that make up the top one per cent — are all making more than $191,100.

Those people are making an average of $381,300 each, 10 times the average Canadian income of $38,700. The large discrepancy between the median and the average suggests there is a very small percentage of the super-rich.

The portrait of the rich differs starkly from the portrait of Canada in general that has been exposed in previous releases of the census and NHS. Data up till now have shown an increasingly diverse population — aging, but also multi-racial, open to unconventional family structures, with women making huge strides in the workplace.

The rich, on the other hand, are a throwback to the olden days: overwhelmingly male, between the ages of 45 and 54, almost always married or living in a common-law relationship.

Education clearly pays. Despite recent questioning of the value of university degrees, more than two thirds of the top one per cent had a university degree, compared to 20.9 per cent of the total population. And almost a quarter of those who had a university degree had found a way to work themselves into the top 10 per cent of income earners.

“The high income is really reflective of the old Canada, which is much less diverse,” said Doug Norris, chief demographer at Environics Analytics.

But as immigrant populations become more established and as women gain ground in the workplace, the income data will slowly start to reflect the broader diversity of the population, he predicted.

“Over time, I think you’ll see that diversity creeping in.”

Already, the NHS shows that second-generation immigrants are making far more money than the national median. And ethnic groups that are well-established in Canada, such as Japanese immigrants, are also well above the median.

As for the other end of the spectrum, the bottom 10 per cent of income earners tend to live in cities, especially Montreal. Low-income neighbourhoods are known for their high proportions of visible minorities and recent immigrants, and a preponderance of single parents.

While the national median annual income for a full-time worker is $50,699, the median for a visible-minority worker is just $45,128. For a First Nations full-time worker, the median income is $41,684.

The highest income in Canada is found in the area around Fort McMurray in the Alberta oilsands, where median family income is $186,782.

It’s almost impossible, however, to figure out from the data whether income inequality has increased since the last census in 2006. The government agency refuses to discuss history, and the data released on Wednesday were laced with large boxes of warnings not to undertake amateur comparisons.

That’s because the NHS data was collected in a voluntary survey that likely has a bias in favour of higher income respondents, while the 2006 census was a mandatory survey with fewer biases. Tables buried in a technical document show some measures of poverty climbing over the past five years, while another set of tables shows it falling.

“In here, we start with the premise we’re not doing trends,” said Brian Murphy, a special adviser on income for Statistics Canada. “The NHS, to me, is one piece of the puzzle.”

Norris crunched some of the numbers himself and adjusted for inflation, finding that median family income climbed by about six per cent nationally between the last census and now. The biggest leap was in the Fort McMurray, where median family income jumped 33 per cent. Families in St. John’s saw their median incomes rise 18 per cent over the five years.

Statcan does, however, venture to make some basic historical comparisons when it comes to mortgage debt and home ownership.

The NHS shows that 69 per cent of households in Canada own their home, up only slightly from the 2006 census after a long, historical climb in home ownership.

Canadians have paid a price for their tendency to buy instead of rent. More than 25.2 per cent of households are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter, surpassing the standard measure for having an affordable home. That’s up slightly from 24.9 per cent in 2006.

Of those living in an unaffordable home, 83 per cent of them were saddled with a mortgage.

Overall, 58.6 per cent of homeowners were still paying off their mortgages according to the 2011 survey. That’s up from 57.9 per cent in 2006 and 55.2 in 2001. In 1991, it was 51.5 per cent.

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