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Nearly five million Canadians in low-income status, 2012 research shows

Pedestrians pass a homeless man on Bay Street in downtown Toronto on Dec. 16, 2013.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Median incomes in Alberta are by far the highest in the country, while single people are the emerging face of poverty, a new national income survey shows.

It's the first glimpse of low and median income trends for 2012. But the numbers are not comparable with prior years as this is the first release of Statistics Canada's new Canadian income survey. The new survey, based on annual income information, comes after its previous income series, the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, was discontinued with its last reference year in 2011. Wednesday's survey "reports on many of the same statistics" as the SLID, but "uses a different methodology," Statscan said.

Until revised historical statistics are analyzed, "the results of the Canadian Income Survey should not be compared to those produced by the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics or other previous income surveys," it said.

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That will likely frustrate researchers trying to get a sense of longer-term income trends through the uneven, post-recession recovery in recent years.

Here are some trends, based on the snapshot of 2012:

Poverty

Nearly five million Canadians were considered low income in 2012. That equates to 13.8 per cent of the country's population, or 4.7 million people to be exact. (While not comparable, the 2011 SLID showed three million Canadians, or 8.8 per cent of the population – based on the low-income cut-off measure - were low income in that year.

About one in six children in the country, or 16.3 per cent, lived in low-income status in 2012. Levels are much higher for kids living with single mothers, where the incidence is 44.5 per cent.

For seniors, the low-income incidence was 6.2 per cent for those who lived in families, and much higher – 28.5 per cent – among those living alone.

The numbers are based on the after-tax low-income measure, where households are considered low income if their income is less than half of the national median income. The low-income threshold for a family of four is $41,568.

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Single people

Single, or "unattached" individuals are much more likely to be living in low-income status.

Median after-tax income was just $27,300 for single people in 2012.

Other national data, including food bank and social assistance statistics, also confirm that singles are a growing segment of Canada's poor.

The picture varies by province. Single Newfoundlanders have the lowest median after-tax incomes at $22,100, while those in Alberta have the highest at $36,500.

Median incomes

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Median after-tax income of Canadian families of two or more people was $71,700 in 2012, with those in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia all seeing higher-than-average incomes.

Those in New Brunswick had the lowest at $59,300.

Among senior families (or those where the highest income earner was over the age of 65), the median income was $52,300, compared with $76,900 among non-senior families.

For families with two parents and kids, median after-tax income was $84,600, much higher than among families headed by a single mother where the median was $39,100.

Alberta

Families in Alberta had – by a wide margin – the highest after-tax median income in the country at $92,300.

Albertan families also had the highest median market income, which includes earnings, pensions and investment income, at $102,700.

This may have changed more recently amid steep declines in the stock market and in energy prices. Albertans also had the highest median income tax paid and the lowest median government transfers

Incomes for families vs. single people (by province)

After-tax median income in 2012

SOURCE: Statistics Canada

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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