Campfire statistics on Yukon incomes and cost of living

Living in Whitehorse, surprisingly, isn’t so costly. The communities on the other hand….

A peril of writing on economics and finance is that friends from Outside who visit you on their summer holidays tend to gather around the campfire, crack open a beer, and ask questions like, “How do incomes and the cost of living in Whitehorse compare to Vancouver?”

Fortunately, the kind souls at the Yukon Bureau of Statistics put out their much awaited (by me, anyway) annual Yukon Statistical Review the day before the Canada Day long weekend.

It’s an interesting question that highlights some commonly held, but not always accurate, beliefs about the Yukon. Regular tourists may think we live in igloos and get chased by polar bears, but visiting econometricians seem to think we are poor and pay a lot for breakfast cereal.

The average weekly earnings in the Yukon in 2016 were $1,053.75. That’s 10 per cent higher than the national average. It’s also better than all the provinces except oil-rich Alberta, which clocks in at $1,118.57. The next two provinces in line after the Yukon, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan, also have big energy industries.

The Yukon doesn’t have much oil and gas production at the moment, but we’ve hit a gusher of another kind: transfer payments. As of December 2016, the sector with the highest average weekly earnings was public administration. Workers in this sector took home $1,344.25 on average, almost 30 per cent higher than the overall Yukon average.

Yukoners in the accommodation and food services industry, at the other end of the scale, earned $448.12 per week on average.

Income inequality is a big issue these days. If you look at a different source of data based on tax returns, Yukoners turn out to be more closely bunched in the middle of the income distribution than Canada overall. Only 0.9 per cent of taxfilers in the Yukon have total incomes over $200,000 per year, based on Statistics Canada definitions, compared to 1.5 per cent nationally.

Meanwhile, there were about 4,000 Yukoners who filed total incomes below $15,000 in 2016. That is a big number of people with incomes that make it very hard to make ends meet given the cost of living here. In statistical terms they are 14.8 per cent of our population compared to a significantly higher 21.5 per cent across Canada.

So, remembering the big caveat that averages hide a lot of people on low incomes and not all people file tax returns, Yukoners do relatively well compared to the rest of Canada on income.

However, as the denizens of Iqaluit could tell you, a higher wage isn’t much use if prices are higher too. So how much higher is the cost of living in the Yukon than in the provinces?

Contrary to tales from the old days, the cost of day-to-day goods in Whitehorse is not that much higher than Vancouver. Improvements to the Alaska Highway, improved truck performance and the amazingly efficient supply chain practices of outfits like Walmart and Amazon have made a big difference.

To calculate its isolated post allowance, the federal government calculates a living cost price index based on a basket of typical household goods. In October 2016, Whitehorse was less than 15 per cent more expensive than B.C.’s biggest city. We don’t know exactly how much, since workers in cities below 15 per cent don’t qualify and the details aren’t published.

The communities, on the other hand, are significantly more expensive than Vancouver. Carcross is estimated to be 15-19 per cent more costly, while Old Crow tops the chart at 70-74 per cent harder on the wallet.

The figures above are just for routine household expenses. They don’t include what is probably your biggest expense: housing. While nowhere near Vancouver levels, Whitehorse housing is considerably more expensive than houses in roughly similarly sized towns in central and northern B.C., at least for those who purchased after the surge in prices over the last decade or so.

So if you collect an above-average Yukon salary, shop in Whitehorse, and bought your house before about 2005, you should consider yourself fortunate.

The next campfire question that came up was about taxes.

We don’t have a territorial sales tax, compared to a levy of 6-10 per cent in your typical province, and our gasoline tax is the lowest in the country.

The Yukon income tax rate for someone making the median Yukon income of about $45,000 is 6.4 per cent. For example, the rate for that income level is 7.7 per cent in B.C., 9.15 per cent in Ontario, 10 per cent in Alberta and 16 per cent in Quebec.

I think our campfire chat almost convinced my friend to move here, until he woke up the next day and saw the thermometer on one of our recent “summer” mornings.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.

cost of livingeconomics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Members of the RCMP’s traffic services team examine police markers on Range Road after a six-year-old boy was struck by a vehicle near the Takhini Arena in Whitehorse on Oct. 25. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Six-year-old hit by vehicle near Takhini Arena

Police were called to the scene around 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 25

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. Two new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Watson Lake over the weekend. The cases are connected to three others in the community previously announced by officials on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Two additional COVID-19 cases in Watson Lake bring total up to five

Individuals with symptoms and connections to the three other cases were tested over the weekend

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

Teagan Wiebe, left, and Amie Wiebe pose for a photo with props during The Guild’s haunted house dress rehearsal on Oct. 23. The Heart of Riverdale Community Centre will be hosting its second annual Halloween haunted house on Oct. 30 and 31, with this year’s theme being a plague. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Plague-themed haunted house to take over Heart of Riverdale for Halloween

A plague will be descending upon the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre… Continue reading

Indigenous lobster boats head from the harbour in Saulnierville, N.S. on Oct. 21. Elected officials in the Yukon, including all 19 members of the legislature, are backing the right of Mi’kmaq fishers on the East Coast to launch a moderate livelihood fishery. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)
Yukon legislature passes motion to support Mi’kmaw fishery

“It’s not easy, but it’s also necessary for us to have these very difficult conversations”

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging the reduction of its caribou quota to zero. (Yukon News file)
YG replies to outfitter’s legal challenge over caribou quota

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging… Continue reading

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.” (Black Press file)
Get flu vaccine, Yukon government urges

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

asdf
COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

asdf
Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Most Read