Alberta goods more affordable than they were 20 years ago

Alberta workers making the province’s median wage could better afford the cost of living in 2020 than they could in 2000.

At the beginning of August, the government of Alberta released a report on trends in Canadian retail food prices. It made me curious on how CPI has changed over the last few years in Alberta.

CPI stands for consumer price index, which is the price of a “basket” of goods from 8 major categories:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Household operations, furnishings, and equipment
  • Clothing and footwear
  • Transportation
  • Health and personal care
  • Recreation, education, and reading
  • Alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and recreational cannabis

You can read more about how Statistics Canada tracks CPI here.

I found Statistics Canada data on this, broken down by various types of good. I decided to go back 20 years: 2000–2020.

Here’s what the overall CPI looks like during that time.

Over the last 2 decades, the overall CPI in Alberta has increased from $96.30 to $144.80, an increase of 48.50, or 50.36%.

Here are the 8 main categories and how much they’ve changed during the same period:

20002020Change% change
Household operations, furnishings, equipment$97.40$121.30$23.9024.54%
Clothing and footwear$98.30$94.70-$3.60-3.66%
Health and personal care$97.10$139.30$42.2043.46%
Recreation, education, reading$95.30$115.40$20.1021.09%
Alcohol, tobacco, cannabis$76.10$170.50$94.40124.05%

All but one of the categories increased, and half of the categories increased by more than 50%, with alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis more than doubling.

Clothing and footwear dropped slightly. In 2019, it was $98.80, having increased only 50¢ over a 19-year period.

Two categories—household operations, furnishings, equipment and recreation, education, reading—had increases of under 25%.

As I was comparing these changes, I was equally curious regarding how wages changed between 2000 and 2020, so I dug up data on the median hourly wage in Alberta.

The median wage is what you get when you take all the wages, sort them from lowest to highest, and pick the one in the middle. If you had 101 wages, then the median would be whichever number was in the 51st spot (with 50 below it and 50 above it).

This graph shows how the overall median hourly wage in Alberta has changed over the last 20 years.

So that looks pretty good, eh? Income is up in Alberta!

Actually, the median hourly wage has increased from $14.42 in 2000 to $28.85 in 2020, pretty much doubling during that period.

So if wages doubled but CPI increased by only 50%, does that mean Alberta workers are better off?

Well, not necessarily. It might be better to compare the CPI relative to wages. This chart shows how many hours someone making the median hourly wage would need to work to afford the basket of goods measured by CPI.

And sure enough, Albertans making the median wage needed to work more hours 20 years ago to afford the CPI basket of goods than they had to last year. They went from 6.68 hours to 5.02 hours.

Seems as though Alberta workers are better off than they were 20 years ago, and that’s despite going through 2 recessions.

Remember, this is for only those making the median income (well, and those making more than it). The lower you get from the median income, the less affordable that basket of goods becomes for the worker.

Let me show you what I mean.

In 2016, the year of the last federal census, the median wage in Alberta was $25.65 an hour and $834.75 a week. That comes to about $43,407 a year.

According to the 2016 federal census, there were 1.45 million people in Alberta making less than $40,000 a year, with about 390,000 of them bringing in under $10,000 a year.

So, even though Alberta goods are more affordable than they were 20 years ago generally speaking, they’re still out of reach for a lot of people.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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