The five years between 2015 and 2020 saw a lot of changes—the COVID-19 pandemic among them. But for some Fraser Valley residents, those five years saw a positive change. The number of people living in low-income situations dropped from one-in-seven residents in 2015 to one-in-10 in 2020. And significantly, fewer kids were living in low-income homes as well.
Across the valley, 64% fewer children were living in low-income households than in 2015, according to the latest census data. The impacts were biggest for kids aged zero to five, although teens up to age 17 also benefited.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this change: earlier Statistics Canada estimates showed the child poverty rate decreasing in the years between 2015 and 2020, and some pointed to the Canada Child Benefit as a possible reason. Compared to its predecessor, that benefit tripled the amount of money given to many families with kids.
But Statistics Canada has said it is also possible fewer Canadians as a whole are living in low-income situations because of changes in government-funded payments during the pandemic—and that means it’s unclear how this change will continue into the future.
The proportion of families with children who were living in low-income situations in 2020 had declined from five years earlier. Nowhere saw a better outcome for children than in Abbotsford, where half as many kids were living in low-income households than five years before.
The change was a big deal in the city, which had the second-lowest median income in the Fraser Valley. The median after-tax income was $34,800—the same as Harrison Hot Springs, and just a bit higher than Hope. But those latter two communities have some of the oldest populations in the valley, and the number of retirees affects a community’s income levels.
Abbotsford’s change was significant because of the number of kids it impacted. But the biggest change proportionally was in Chilliwack; there, one-in-10 young children were living in low-income households in 2020, compared to one-in-five in 2015.
Hope also saw significant improvements for local children. In 2015, more than 35% of kids under six were living in poverty, according to the low-income measure. In 2020, only 17% were in low-income situations.
The low-income measure looks at how many people are living on half of the median income for each community. (You can read our story on what the median income is in each Fraser Valley community here.) It’s dependent on household size, and the math can get a little tricky.*
But ultimately what it shows is that more people in lower income brackets were making more money in 2020 compared to five years earlier.
The number of people making less than $10,000 was nearly halved from 2015 to 2020, and the number making between $10,000 and $20,000 also plunged.
Some of that could have to do with COVID-related government grants, which gave additional income to low-paid frontline workers like restaurant employees.
Nearly one-quarter of all Fraser Valley residents over the age of 15 received some form of COVID benefit. This included CERB, but also top ups to other government programs like the Canada Child Benefit and the Old Age Pension.
The percentage of residents receiving COVID benefits was highest in Abbotsford and Langley City. Harrison and Hope, meanwhile, saw a higher median payout—unsurprising given the tourism-based economy that drives both of those communities.
Statistics Canada also noted that COVID benefits played a key role in reducing the low-income measure across the country. Whether those changes continue into the future without pandemic payments remains to be seen.
But although COVID benefits may have helped bolster the incomes of some residents, there is also another reason for an upwards trend in the Fraser Valley’s median income: the richest residents got richer. Across the region, the number of residents taking home more than $90,000 nearly doubled, with almost 20,000 individuals bringing home more than $100,000 a year.
Statistics Canada noted that this trend was common across the country, where higher-earning positions earned more in 2020 than they did just the year before. (Lower-earning positions, on the other hand, sent workers home with less.)
*Statistics Canada defines people living in low-income situations by the Low-Income Measure. This measure reflects the population making less than half of the median income for each community. It is adjusted based on household size, so a family of two making a certain amount might not meet the threshold for being low-income, while a family of six would.
The Low-Income Measure is not a measure of poverty per-say, but rather the number of people who are substantially worse off than average. For more details, see Statistics Canada.