Albertans still make the most money, but other provinces are catching up

Most Canadians have seen their incomes rise over the past few years but things have been going in the opposite direction for people living in Alberta.

Median income in the province decreased by 3.3% over the past few years, compared to 4.1% growth across Canada

Albertans have seen the largest decline in their after-tax income over the past few years, but still make more money than people in any other province. (CBC)

Most Canadians have seen their incomes rise over the past few years but things have been going in the opposite direction for people living in Alberta.

Median after-tax income in the province fell by 3.3 per cent from 2015 to 2018, according to the latest Statistics Canada data, marking the largest decline of all provinces.

The only other province to see a decline over that time was Saskatchewan, where the median shrank by 1.1 per cent, in inflation-adjusted terms (constant 2018 dollars).

Every other province saw income gains and, across Canada, the median grew by 4.1 per cent.

The median represents an income level right in the middle of a population, so that half of the people being measured earn more than that amount and half earn less.

Albertans still earn the most

In spite of the declines, Albertans still bring home more money than people in any other province, with a median after-tax income of $72,700 in 2018, when counting both individuals and families.

That's 18.4 per cent higher than the Canadian median of $61,400.

Back in 2015, Alberta's median income was 27.5 per cent higher than the nationwide measure.

The median income for individuals, alone, was $35,800 in Alberta in 2018. For families, alone, it was $98,400.

That compares to $30,700 for individuals, alone, across Canada and $84,900 for families, alone.

Janet Brown, a Calgary-based pollster and political analyst, said there are two ways to look at the numbers, which may reflect some of the recent disconnect between Alberta and the rest of Canada.

'Hard ... to feel too sympathetic'

Brown said Canadians, as a whole, may focus more on the fact that Albertans make more money than people in every other province.

"It's hard for people outside of Alberta to feel too sympathetic towards Alberta, as long as we're still earning more money," she said.

Albertans, meanwhile, will be more likely to focus on the declining incomes.

For those who have lost work, in particular, she said the comparison they'll be making is not to other provinces but to previous life plans that may now have been derailed.

Janet Brown is a Calgary-based pollster. (CBC)

"If you see a decline in your income and you weren't expecting that decline in your income, it's hard to adapt," Brown said.

"The natural progression of life is that you think, year after year, you're going to continue to earn more money. And when you get a mortgage, when you get a car, that's what you're thinking about. So, on an individual level for Albertans, it's painful to see your income go down."

She also noted that the median doesn't reflect the scale of income loss that many people have experienced, or the high unemployment rate the province continues to struggle with.

Some Albertans have complained that these plights have gone underappreciated in other parts of Canada, and Brown said the income numbers offer a possible explanation. 

"It helps you understand why the rest of Canada feels a bit of schadenfreude," she said.

Even for those who are sympathetic, she said there are limits to how far that sympathy may go.

"I mean, you can be sympathetic but then it's another step entirely for other people in other parts of Canada to think that they must somehow rectify the situation."

While it's the most recent available, the data from the Canadian Income Survey is only current to 2018, and Brown noted that, by many measures, 2019 was an even worse year for Alberta's economy.


Robson Fletcher

Data Journalist

Robson Fletcher's work for CBC Calgary focuses on data, analysis and investigative journalism. He joined CBC in 2015 after spending the previous decade working as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba.


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