Vancouver has lowest median employment income among large cities in region

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Appeared in Business in Vancouver, January 2, 2024
Vancouver has lowest median employment income among large cities in region

According to new study, among the largest metropolitan areas in the westernmost Canadian provinces and U.S. states, Vancouver had the lowest median employment income, an important measure of labour market strength.

Specifically, the study compared 12 cities (with populations of more than one million people) in Alberta, British Columbia and the western United States. The lowest ranked U.S. city (Fresno, California) had an annual median employment income C$1,524 higher than Vancouver (in 2019, the latest year of comparable data). For the middle-ranking U.S. area (surrounding Sacramento, California) the gap was much larger at C$12,295. For nearby Seattle, the gap was a whopping C$23,756 compared to Vancouver.

Vancouver also trailed far behind the other two Canadian cities in the analysis, with the median income in both Calgary and Edmonton approximately 20 per cent higher than in Vancouver.

Clearly, Vancouver is a regional laggard compared to the other largest metropolitan areas on or near the west coast of Canada and the U.S. This isn’t just a problem for Vancouver, however, because all large cities in B.C. have the same problem.

Indeed, the same study expanded the analysis to also include mid-sized metropolitan areas. Out of the eight worst performers in the expanded group of 59 areas, five were in B.C.—and the top ranked B.C. city (Victoria) ranked in the bottom half.

The study also considered the recent growth in employment earnings to see if B.C.’s cities are at least closing the large gaps with counterparts in Alberta and the U.S. Unfortunately, none of B.C.’s cities ranked in the top one-third for growth in median employment income in recent years. In other words, there’s no sign of the type of rapid growth that could significantly change the picture.

Of course, there are many possible reasons for such a large prosperity gap. And these reasons should be debated. However, the first step is to recognize the size of the problem. Vancouverites should not be content with a state of affairs where the median employment income in Portland, Oregon is 36 per cent higher than in their own city. British Columbians broadly should not be satisfied when their cities trail so badly behind mid-sized and mid-income cities such as Stockton, California and Spokane, Washington.

In light of this stark evidence of a large prosperity gap between B.C. cities and their regional neighbours, B.C. policymakers have no reason to be complacent about the provincial economy or confident in the wisdom of the status quo approach to public policy in the province.