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A new Statscan survey says incomes for most Canadians remained little changed in 2013.

Tom Hahn/iStockphoto

Nearly five million Canadians were living in low income in 2013, or 13.5 per cent of the population, a share that was little changed from a year earlier.

A new Canadian Income Survey from Statistics Canada shows 4.6 million people were considered low income in that year. Its survey shows 16.5 per cent of children aged 17 and under were living in low income in 2013.

The annual survey is comparable to 2012 but not to data before then – meaning this is more of a snapshot than a picture of longer-term trends. The Canadian Income Survey is a relatively new survey, developed to replace the longrunning Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID), which was last based on 2011 data.

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"The results of the CIS should not be compared with those produced by the SLID or other previous income surveys," the agency cautioned.

Statscan's after-tax low-income measure counts people as low income if their household income is less than half of the median income of all households. The threshold varies by household size – for example, the low-income threshold for a one-person household was $20,933, after-tax, in 2013.

The survey is based on a sample size of almost 33,000 households, with a collection response rate of 73.4 per cent. It showed 12.8 per cent of kids in two-parent families lived in low income, while for children in single-mother families, the incidence was 42.6 per cent.

The study also looked at income inequality. It found people in the highest decile accounted for 23.7 per cent of total after-tax income in Canada, while those in the lowest decile represented 2.5 per cent of total income.

Across all family types, the median after-tax income was $53,500 in 2013, little changed from $53,400 a year earlier.

After-tax income among two-parent families with kids fell to $85,000 in 2013 from $85,400 a year earlier. Incomes among families headed by single mothers were unchanged at $39,400, while incomes for seniors not living in families rose to $25,700 from $25,300.

Among cities, separate Statscan data, released last month and based on income tax returns, shows Calgary was home to the country's highest median before-tax total family income at $101,260 in 2013. This was followed by Edmonton and Ottawa while median incomes were lowest in Abbotsford, B.C.

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Among smaller cities and towns, median incomes were highest in Wood Buffalo, Alta. and lowest in Leamington, Ont.

Many researchers have been frustrated with the lack of comparability in long-term income trends, at a time when income inequality and middle-class income trends are subjects of intense political debate.

Statscan says it will release a revised series of income statistics that will be comparable by December – after the federal election.

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