Government policy hurts Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with modest incomes

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Appeared in the St. John's Telegram, June 16, 2024
Government policy hurts Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with modest incomes

In Newfoundland and Labrador, thanks to government policies, when workers earn additional income, they effectively get penalized for their extra efforts. Here’s why.

Many provincial and federal benefit programs are based on income, which means that workers at certain income levels will lose some of those benefits if they earn additional income.

For example, the Canada Workers Benefit provides a tax credit of $1,428 for individuals with net income up to $23,495 per year. The benefit is gradually “clawed back”—that is, its cash value is reduced—for any individual who earns more than $23,495 up to $33,015, after which no benefit applies. The cost of this clawback is on top of the fact these workers already pay personal income taxes.

Consequently, if you account for all provincial and federal benefit programs in Newfoundland and Labrador and both provincial and federal personal income tax rates, any worker (or family) earning $60,000 who earns an additional $100 will lose $64 of the $100 due to the joint effects of clawbacks and taxes, keeping only $36 to pay their bills, feed their families and meet other priorities in their lives.

Economists call that loss of $64 the “marginal effective tax rate” or METR. While METRs are relatively high across the country, Newfoundland and Labrador stands out. At $64 in lost income for an additional $100 in earnings at the $60,000 household income level, the province has the second-highest METR in Canada (second only to Quebec).

At a time when many in the province are struggling with the cost of living, taking home just $36 of an additional $100 earned is a discouraging prospect. After they do the math, some workers may decide to not take on additional work or pursue increases in their incomes.

Unfortunately, METRs are generally higher for workers with modest incomes, which means—again, thanks to government policy—some Newfoundlanders and Labradorians face a substantial disincentive to move up the income spectrum. In fact, the study found that those earning between $30,001 and $60,000 faced the highest METR of any income group in the province.

This should come as no surprise given that Newfoundland and Labrador has among the highest personal income tax rates in North America. At $50,000 of income, residents in the province face the third-highest tax rate among 61 jurisdictions in Canada and the United States. These high tax rates help produce the punishingly high METRs experienced in the province.

The Furey government and the Trudeau government should look closely at both the design of their benefits programs and their tax rates to provide relief for workers in the province and across the country.

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