Economic analysis

A short history of Nathalie’s family’s income

Economist Stephen Gordon imagines the fictional woman from Trudeau’s speech
Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau delivers his opening address on day one of the party’s biennial convention in Montreal, Thursday, February 20, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Justin Trudeau’s speech to the recent Liberal Party of Canada talked about Nathalie, a fictional but representative member of Canada’s middle class:

She works hard. Maybe in an office in old Montreal. Maybe at a retail outlet along Sainte-Catherine Street. She makes 40k a year. It’s about what her spouse makes, too.

These numbers are roughly consistent with Statistics Canada’s estimates for the median income of a two-parent family with children and in which both parents work. We are given to understand that Nathalie’s family’s income has not seen much growth in the last decade.

Here are Statistics Canada’s estimates for Nathalie’s family’s income since 1976:


(Data are series V25742573 and V25742789 in Cansim Table 202-0605)

A narrative in which Nathalie’s family was struggling along with stagnant or even declining incomes would have had real bite in the first twenty years of that sample. But their income has increased by almost 30 per cent since 1997 and by more than 10 per cent in the five years after 2006.

It is certainly the case that families higher up in the income distribution have seen even greater increases, and you might even want to say that you would like to see even faster growth at the median. But you don’t need to assert that median incomes have been stagnant to make those points.

[This was prompted by John Geddes’ recent post“>.]