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Alberta’s real wages drop over last 10 years

Alberta was the only Canadian province to see its median weekly wages decrease over the last 10 years, when adjusted for inflation.

Last week, Statistics Canada updated their labour data tables to include data for April 2022. I’m exploring one data table in particular today: wages.

According to Statistics Canada, Alberta had the highest median hourly wage of all the provinces last month.

AB$29.00
BC$27.47
ON$27.00
SK$27.00
QC$26.44
NL$26.00
NB$23.33
MB$23.08
PEI$23.00
NS$23.00

Same goes for median weekly wages.

AB$1,140.00
SK$1,024.00
ON$1,015.20
BC$1,000.00
NL$1,000.00
QC$991.52
NB$910.31
NS$884.63
MB$880.00
PEI$880.00

It shouldn’t be that surprising, actually. Alberta has had the highest median wages in Canada for quite a while. In fact, here is what the median hourly wage looks like for all of the provinces since April 2012.

Alberta is the solid yellow line at the top of the chart. As you can see, there hasn’t been a single month over the last 120 months that Alberta hasn’t had the highest median hourly wage.

Same goes for median wage.

But there’s something you should know about that high median wage.

Alberta’s wage growth is slowing down. And other provinces are nipping at its heels.

Here, let me show you what I mean.

This is the media hourly wages for each province in March 2022 and April 2022.

March 2022April 2022Change
NL$25.00$26.00$1.00
NS$22.81$23.00$0.19
AB$28.85$29.00$0.15
NB$23.31$23.33$0.02
QC$26.44$26.44$0.00
ON$27.00$27.00$0.00
SK$27.00$27.00$0.00
BC$27.50$27.47-$0.03
PEI$23.08$23.00-$0.08
MB$23.50$23.08-$0.42

Compared to March 2022, Alberta was one of only 4 provinces that saw wage growth in April 2022, and they were in third place. Six provinces saw decreasing median hourly wage or no change.

Same goes for media weekly wages.

March 2022April 2022Change
AB$1,100.63$1,140.00$39.37
NL$980.63$1,000.00$19.37
QC$980.50$991.52$11.02
NS$880.00$884.63$4.63
ON$1,012.50$1,015.20$2.70
MB$880.00$880.00$0.00
BC$1,000.00$1,000.00$0.00
NB$912.00$910.31-$1.69
PEI$886.40$880.00-$6.40
SK$1,038.40$1,024.00-$14.40

Except this time, 5 provinces saw increases and Alberta was at the top of the heap.

Well, that seems pretty good, right?

Unfortunately, one month isn’t much data for determining long-term trends. So, let’s look at how wages have changed for the provinces over the last year.

April 2021April 2022Change
NL$23.33$26.00$2.67
SK$25.00$27.00$2.00
QC$25.00$26.44$1.44
NB$22.00$23.33$1.33
PEI$22.00$23.00$1.00
BC$26.92$27.47$0.55
AB$28.85$29.00$0.15
ON$26.92$27.00$0.08
NS$23.00$23.00$0.00
MB$23.11$23.08-$0.03
Median hourly wages
April 2021April 2022Change
NL$900.00$1,000.00$100.00
SK$960.00$1,024.00$64.00
NB$850.80$910.31$59.51
QC$932.52$991.52$59.00
PEI$840.00$880.00$40.00
NS$851.00$884.63$33.63
AB$1,120.00$1,140.00$20.00
ON$1,000.13$1,015.20$15.07
MB$880.00$880.00$0.00
BC$1,000.00$1,000.00$0.00
Median weekly wages

When we compare median hourly wages and weekly wages over the last year, we find that Alberta drops to fourth-from-last place, far less impressive.

Not only that, but you might notice that Alberta’s median hourly wage increased by the same amount for both the last month and the last year—just 15¢—which tells me that for the 11 months prior to April 2022, Alberta’s median hourly wage must have dropped and then just recently recovered.

And given that Alberta’s median weekly wage increased by just $20 over the last year, the fact that it increased by nearly twice that much in just the past month tells me that it had decreased at some point between April 2021 and March 2022.

For hourly wages, it gets even worse if we look at the trends over the last 10 years.

April 2012April 2022Change
NL$19.23$26.00$6.77
BC$21.00$27.47$6.47
QC$20.00$26.44$6.44
SK$20.67$27.00$6.33
ON$20.67$27.00$6.33
PEI$16.83$23.00$6.17
NB$17.31$23.33$6.02
AB$23.08$29.00$5.92
NS$18.00$23.00$5.00
MB$18.75$23.08$4.33
Median hourly wage

Alberta drops one more spot, to third-from last.

It’s better news for the median weekly wage though.

April 2012April 2022Change
QC$708.75$991.52$282.77
ON$774.38$1,015.20$240.82
AB$900.00$1,140.00$240.00
NL$760.00$1,000.00$240.00
BC$760.00$1,000.00$240.00
SK$786.00$1,024.00$238.00
NB$673.00$910.31$237.31
PEI$671.70$880.00$208.30
NS$692.25$884.63$192.38
MB$692.40$880.00$187.60
Median weekly wage

Alberta jump back up to third place, but they have to share it with 3 other provinces.

But all this long-term analysis is missing one thing. It’s not accounting for inflation. The dollar amounts listed for 2012 are what they were in 2012, which means that while Alberta’s median hourly wage increased by nearly $6 an hour over the last decade, it may not mean much if everything costs too much.

In fact, there’s a term for wages adjusted for inflation: real wages.

So, I thought I’d take a look at how much real wages have changed for each province over the last 10 years.

First, let’s take a look at the consumer price index between April 2012 and March 2022 (April 2022 numbers aren’t out yet).

April 2012March 2022Change% change
AB127.0156.529.523.23%
PEI126.3154.728.422.49%
NL125.2151.926.721.33%
SK124.2151.427.221.90%
NS126.1151.425.320.06%
ON122.4150.828.423.20%
MB120.4149.929.524.50%
NB123.1149.526.421.45%
QC121.3144.523.219.13%
BC118.214324.820.98%

One of the first things I notice is that in both 2012 and 2022, Alberta’s consumer price index was the highest in the country, which means it costs more to live here than in other provinces.

Not only that, but Alberta’s CPI increased the most (although they were tied with Manitoba) over that 10-year period, jumping up just shy of 30 points. And our inflation rate of 23.23% during the last decade was the second highest in the country.

Now let’s take a look at those median wages when we apply that inflation.

Apr 2012InflationApr 2012 adj.March 2022Adj diff
QC$20.0019.13%$23.83$26.44$2.61
PEI$16.8322.49%$20.61$23.08$2.47
NB$17.3121.45%$21.02$23.31$2.29
BC$21.0020.98%$25.41$27.50$2.09
SK$20.6721.90%$25.20$27.00$1.80
NL$19.2321.33%$23.33$25.00$1.67
ON$20.6723.20%$25.47$27.00$1.53
NS$18.0020.06%$21.61$22.81$1.20
AB$23.0823.23%$28.44$28.85$0.41
MB$18.7524.50%$23.34$23.50$0.16
Median hourly wages
Apr 2012InflationApr 2012 adj.March 2022Adj. diff
QC$708.7519.13%$844.31$980.50$136.19
NB$673.0021.45%$817.33$912.00$94.67
BC$760.0020.98%$919.46$1,000.00$80.54
SK$786.0021.90%$958.14$1,038.40$80.26
PEI$671.7022.49%$822.74$886.40$63.66
NL$760.0021.33%$922.08$980.63$58.55
ON$774.3823.20%$954.06$1,012.50$58.44
NS$692.2520.06%$831.14$880.00$48.86
MB$692.4024.50%$862.05$880.00$17.95
AB$900.0023.23%$1,109.06$1,100.63-$8.43
Median weekly wages

Here, we see that Alberta drops to second to last place for increase in real median hourly wages and dead last for real median weekly wages. Not only that, but Alberta is the only province over the last 10 years to actually see a drop in real wages.

Here’s the difference in real wages in chart form.

I wonder if that’s what the UCP cabinet ministers mean when they say “Alberta’s Recovery Plan is working!”

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on municipal, provincial, and federal politics, specializing in investigative journalism and critical analysis from a leftist political lens. He also writes regular editorials on general politics and social issues.

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