Manitobans are making 20 per cent more than they did a decade ago but the province's earners are still making less than the national median income, and more kids are living in low-income households in the province than almost anywhere else, according to newly released census data.
Numbers released on Wednesday show between 2005 and 2015, median household income in the province grew by 20.3 per cent to $68,147 — a jump nearly double the national rate of growth of 10.8 per cent.
But the province's median income is still somewhat below the the national dollar figure of $70,336, and is the lowest among the Prairie provinces. Saskatchewan, which posted a growth rate of 36.5 per cent over the 10-year period, boasts a median income of $75,412, while Albertans' median income grew by 24 per cent and ranks second in the country at $93,835.
Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said the numbers are problematic for the province.
"We're not really attracting those high-paying industries that we want to in this province," said Davidson. "I think what it does talk more [about] is that we've got a stable economy but at the same time, are we doing more to attract what we consider to be high-paying jobs?"
Davidson said the relatively high percentage of change in median income suggests Manitoba is on the right track, but it's the dollar-figure that has more impact on how much Manitobans spend and invest.
Statistics Canada attributed growth in Western Canada largely to developments in the oil and construction sectors.
Davidson said Saskatchewan has taken a particularly aggressive approach to economic development he'd like to see mirrored for Manitoba industries like mining, manufacturing and green energy.
But he said the province's economic structure insulated it during financial slumps, and could explain the province's relatively high income growth compared to the national rate.
"Right in the middle of the time frame that they're looking at we had a major recession in Canada and in North America, where salaries for the most part were frozen," Davidson said.
"I think the fact that we have seen [a] 20 per cent increase does talk to our diversified economy, and one of the things that we do know is that when many economies in other provinces were having a negative impact between 2008 and 2010, Manitoba was staying relatively flat, and you weren't seeing those decreases as much in salary and in various areas."
1 in 5 children living in low-income households
While median household income grew in Manitoba overall, Kate Kehler, the executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, cautioned against reading too much into the dollar signs.
"That does not help the most marginalized in our community. It doesn't give us an indication that they are doing any better," she said.
"If we are only talking about what the median is, it doesn't give us the extremes, and it's the extremes that we need [to know] because we do know that we have a very high number of people living in poverty in Manitoba."
Just over 15 per cent of Manitobans live in low-income households, census data shows, compared to 14.2 per cent of Canadians overall.
The province also ranked near the top for the percentage of children living in low-income households, at 21.9 per cent. Only Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had a higher rate, tied at 22.2 per cent, and the national average was lower, at 17 per cent.
"The takeaway should be that we actually do have the resources that we need to look after people properly and help people learn to look after themselves," Kehler said. "The resources are there. It's just the way we distribute them."
Kehler noted the census numbers don't provide information about Indigenous people living on-reserve in the low-income data, and said the Social Planning Council is troubled by the omission.
Statistics Canada is expected to release more detailed income information about Indigenous populations and new Canadians next month, and Kehler said that could provide revealing information about Manitoba.
"We do know that certain populations, both newcomers and Indigenous [people] on-reserve, are underrepresented in census material. So we don't have the full picture," she said.
'Economic hotbeds' faring well in Manitoba
Within Manitoba, the highest income growth occurred in the census area of Winkler — including the southern Manitoba cities of Winkler and Morden and the rural municipality of Stanley — at 24.2 per cent, jumping from a median household income of $52,166 to $64,806 in 2015.
Still strong but slightly below Winkler was the census area of Brandon, which saw median income rise to $69,656 in 2015 from $56,491 in 2005, amounting to a growth of 23.3 per cent.
Mayor of Brandon Rick Chrest told CBC News in an email the city's strong employment numbers are having a positive impact on income growth.
"Brandon also made some gains with respect to the number of people considered low-income and I would give a lot of credit to many non-profit organizations and volunteers who are working very hard to improve poverty in Brandon," Chrest wrote in the email.
"While it will be small consolation to those who are still below the poverty line, the efforts of many in our community have made gains and we are grateful to see the improvement."
Davidson said strong industries in Brandon and Winkler, including the Maple Leaf expansion in Brandon, contributed to the income growth.
"Those are the communities that have been growing at the fastest rate. Winkler specifically, a very strong manufacturing sector, a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in those communities," Davidson said. "Not a surprise at all."
He identified those communities and a few others as "economic hotbeds" in the province, posting high population growth and income growth over the past decade.
"The Winkler-Morden area in the Pembina Valley, the Steinbach community has been growing rapidly. Communities like Niverville, as well, and Brandon," he said.
"These are communities in Manitoba that are expanding their tax base and I think at the same time providing good-paying opportunities for residents to decide that that's a good place to live and to, you know, make home."
The census area of Thompson came in third in the province for growth, with a 19.3 per cent jump from a median income of $80,876 in 2005 to $96,465 in 2015.
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Davidson said that wasn't a surprise, either. Mining jobs pay well, he said, and the industry was strong in northern Manitoba during the timeframe.
But difficulties in the region as big companies shift could mean those numbers will change soon, or have changed already, he added.
"I think you would see a bit of a different story, kind of going forward," Davidson said. "There's no question there's going to be some workforce challenges in that community that would move the numbers in a different direction."