'You don't gain, you just exist': Low wages keeping New Brunswickers from getting ahead

John Graves, who travels to Alberta every two weeks for work, says he thinks part of the reason net worths aren’t growing is the low wages New Brunswickers are paid compared to workers in other parts of the province.

New report from Statistics Canada says New Brunswickers have lowest net worths in the country

John Graves travels to Alberta every two weeks to make a living as a truck driver hauling dangerous goods. He says he's found it very difficult to make a comfortable living in New Brunswick compared to other provinces. (Submitted )

John Graves was not surprised by Statistics Canada's latest report on Canadians' finances, which showed New Brunswickers have the lowest net worths in the country.

His story is a common one throughout the province. He has to travel to Alberta every few weeks to make a comfortable living as a truck driver who transports dangerous goods.

He thinks part of the reason net worths aren't growing is the low wages New Brunswickers are paid compared to workers in other parts of the country.

"You don't gain, you just exist," he said of working in New Brunswick.

"And I didn't want to be in that position where you had to go from week to week, hoping that your pay was going to cover everything."

A new Statistics Canada report released Thursday that that looked at the financial security of Canadians in 2016 found that New Brunswickers were worth considerably less than Canadians living in other provinces.

The median net worth for families and persons in New Brunswick last year was $158,400, a drop of 14.2 per cent since 2012.

Across Canada, the median net worth for families was  $295,100, a 14.7 per cent increase from 2012, and almost double the 1999 level.

Better wages elsewhere 

In New Brunswick, Graves, who lives outside Moncton, says he could earn between $32,000 to $42,000 a year as a truck driver.

But in Alberta, he says he can earn up to $90,000, and also works for a company that will cover his travel expenses.

He says he'd like to stay in New Brunswick, where his wife and family are, "but it's getting harder all the time."

"There are no opportunities to make a decent, livable wage, where you're comfortable, and everybody has that right to be comfortable with what they're earning, and not have to be struggling," he argued.

Lowest household incomes 

When Statistics Canada released 2016 census data on median household incomes, New Brunswick was also at the bottom of the list for all provinces and territories.

While the national household median income sat at $70,336 in 2015, in New Brunswick, the median was $59,347.

In an interview Thursday, Fred Bergman, a senior policy analyst with the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, said low home values and declining business equity were key factors in New Brunswick's low net worths.

But annual income estimates, which have declined slightly in recent years, also put a drag on New Brunswickers' net worth, he said.

"If your income's not growing for your family, you're going to draw from your assets to make a living," he said.

Last week, Statistics Canada also released its latest job numbers, which showed that New Brunswick lost 2,700 jobs in November, while about 1,100 people left the labour force.

Meanwhile the Canadian economy added eight times more jobs than expected last month.

About the Author

Sarah Petz

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Sarah Petz is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. She was previously based at CBC New Brunswick. Her career has taken her across three provinces and includes a stint in East Africa. In 2017, she was part of a team of reporters and editors nominated for a National Newspaper Award for a feature on the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.petz@cbc.ca.