Economic Update: How are Calgarians faring?

The synopsis: Calgary is experiencing increasing income inequality, and, being disproportionately dependent upon the oil and gas sector, our economy may not prove resilient to change – neither of which rank us very highly in terms of sustainability.  The decrease to our unemployment rate is encouraging, but tempered by increases in food bank usage, inadequate minimum wages and high costs of housing.

State of our City tracks 6 indicators of economic sustainability, including: Housing Affordability, Economic Diversity, Unemployment Rate, Hours Required to Meet Basic Needs at Minimum Wage, Food Bank Usage and Income Equity.

Here are some of the headlines:

  • Approximately 17.6% of all Calgary households, representing 77,200 households, spent more than they could afford on housing in 2009.  The 2012 Calgary Homeless Count registered 3,190 persons, representing an 11.4% decrease over the 2008 count, and reportedly the first year it has decreased in 20 years.
  • Calgary’s oil and gas sector contributed approximately 7.5% of the city’s employment , 18.7% of the city’s GDP and 75.5% of the city’s exports, for a reliance index of 33.9% (100 being total reliance) in 2008.  This is the highest level of reliance since 1998.
  • Calgary’s unemployment rate was 4.7% in 2012, which was the second lowest rate after Regina, and much lower than the national average of 7.3% nationally.  However, there were at least 117,500 people working for less than a Living Wage in Calgary in 2012 (Vibrant Communities Calgary, 2012). New jobs created in 2012 were dominated by traditionally low-paying work, but much less so than in 2008.
  • In 2012, a parent with 2 children would work 70 hours at minimum wage to reach the Low Income Cut-Off ($35,657/year).  A single person would work 46 hours to reach the Low-Income Cut-Off ($23,298/year).  While these are not good results, the trend has nevertheless been one of improvement since 2004, when the comparable numbers were 111 hours/week for a parent, and 73 hours/week for a single person.  Alberta has the lowest minimum wage in the country, and women are more likely to experience low wages – 62% of those making less than a Living Wage in Alberta are women.  It should come as no surprise then that many children are affected by poverty as well – 73,000 in total in  2009, 34,000 of whom were under the age of 6.
  • There has been a 52% increase in client visits to Calgary Food Bank (CFB) since 2008 recession.  43% of new clients from 2011-2012 were women with children, and the number of users where at least one person in the household earns a wage increased to 35% in 2012 from 33% in 2011.  Many hungry Albertans also remain unaccounted for.  In 2010, 2% of Albertans accessed food banks, but 7% of Alberta households were food insecure, meaning that a majority of food insecure Albertans were not accessing food banks (Health Canada, 2010). Food insecurity is highly correlated with low income, and experienced disproportionately for workers in the retail, health care, construction and administration sectors (McIntyre et al., 2012, McIntyre, 2010).
  • From 1980 to 2005, the gap between the rich and the poor, measured by the Gini coefficient, grew by 81%– the highest increase of any other city in Canada .  Between 2005 and 2009, income inequality spiked even more within the province of Alberta[i] ().  Alberta also has the highest Income Gap Ratio, meaning that people in Alberta experience deeper poverty than other provinces[ii].

What you can do:

  • Support a policy for 15% of housing stock in every community to be affordable
  • Support policies that strengthen the diversification of the local, regional, and provincial economies
  • Support a policy for a minimum wage that at least meets the basic needs of an individual or family – a Living Wage
  • Stay engaged in the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative, and the Government of Alberta’s 5-year strategy to end child poverty, and 10-year strategy to reduce overall poverty
  • Support policies that tackle the root causes of poverty, like national policies for adequate and indexed social assistance, living wages, child care, and a housing strategy
  • Support taxation reform to ensure taxes are not regressive and do not burden low-income households

[i] Statistics Canada, 2012, Table 202-0709

[ii] Statistics Canada, 2012, Table 202-0804

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