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Saskatchewan wage earners lagging

There are more full-time workers earning a measly wage in Saskatchewan than in any other province, thanks in part to the high number of farmers.

Census figures released by Statistics Canada Tuesday show Saskatchewan has the highest percentage of full-time workers earning $20,000 a year or less.

Across Canada, 1.5 million workers, or 17% of the workforce, earned $20,000 or less per year. In Saskatchewan, 73,400 workers, representing 27 per cent of the full-time labour force, earned less than $20,000.

Saskatoon had among the highest number of full-time employees working year-round and earning less than $20,000 annually.

"Of all individuals who worked full-year, full-time in Saskatoon, 20.7% -- or 13,600 -- had earnings of less than $20,000 in 2000."

More than 128,900 men and women in Saskatoon received employment income during 2000, according to the census, and they earned, on average, $28,174 -- below the national average of $31,757 for all earners.

More than 51% of all wage earners in Saskatoon worked full-time for the year, earning on average $39,315 a year. This compares with the national average of $43,231, the Statistics Canada report says.

Farmers were more likely to be low-income earners than those employed in any other occupation, a written analysis provided by Statistics Canada indicated.

The data, which was for the year 2000 but collected as part of the 2001 census, indicates there were 84,920 people across Canada who had full-time jobs as farmers or farm managers but earned less than $20,000 per year.

Larry Hubich, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, said the information on low incomes isn't surprising. Businesspeople -- who sometimes complain about a lack of skilled workers in Saskatchewan -- need to raise wage rates to attract workers and to provide them with a better standard of living, Hubich said.

The report also noted there are large differences in incomes among farmers and some make in excess of $100,000.

In Saskatoon, about 1.9 per cent of the 128,900 people reporting employment income had earnings of $100,000 or more, compared with the national average of 2.7%, it says.

The report also indicated that the higher one's education, the more money that person is likely to earn. University educated, full-time workers earned an average of $61,823 in 2000, compared to $41,825 for college graduates and $36,278 for people with high-school diplomas. Twenty-six per cent of Saskatoon's workforce claims a university education.

The good news for Saskatchewan and Saskatoon is that the percentage of young women, between the ages of 20 and 34, with a university degree has grown compared to their male counterparts. While 23.7% of the population in this age category claimed a university degree, 26.5% of the women had convocated, compared with 20.7% of the men.


Average earnings top $30,000

Canada's average annual earnings topped $30,000 for the first time in 2000 as the nation felt the pull of globalization, an aging work force and more highly educated workers, Statistics Canada said Tuesday.

Drawing on its latest census data, the government agency also found that - despite a narrowing gap - men still make more than women and that a startling number of Canadians work full-time all year but still pull in only $20,000 or less annually.

At the other end of the spectrum, ranks of the $100,000 plus club swelled by more than two-thirds in the 10 years ending in 2000, with Alberta seeing the biggest boom in that category.

According to figures from the 2001 Census, the government agency said annual earnings for Canadians aged 15 and over averaged $31,757 apiece, up from $29,596 in 1990 and $29,229 in 1980.

Over the past decade, Canadians' average annual earnings have risen by 7.3%, owing to three key factors:
· The demand for highly skilled workers in the face of advancing technologies and globalization
· An aging work force of baby boomers who experienced substantial gains in earnings during the decade
· More working people with university education.

As well, the most recent numbers also indicate the number of Canadians raking in big bucks is soaring, rising almost 70% between 1990 and 2000.

In 2000, just under 447,000 people earned $100,000 or more, the government agency said. That's up 68.8% from 264,500 a decade earlier.

"Nationally, the number of all earners increased by only 10.1%," Statscan said.

"These high-earning individuals represented 2.7% of all earners in 2000, compared with 1.8% in 1990."

The majority of people earning at that level were university educated men in their prime working years, although the proportions shifted slightly between 1990 and 2000.

"While men accounted for about 84%, or 373,000, of the 447,000 people in this earnings bracket, this figure was lower than in 1990 when men accounted for 89% of this same group," Statscan said.

The number of women making $100,000 plus increased 2.5 fold between 1990 and 2000.

The most common occupational category among male high earners was sales, marketing and advertising manager, accounting for 5.1% of the total. The top two categories for women were lawyers and general practitioners-family physicians. Combined, they accounted for more than 10% of high-earning women, the agency said.

By province, Alberta had the most growth in the top earnings category, with the ranks in that bracket doubling in 10 years. About 51% of people raking in $100,000 or more lived in Ontario, Canada's most populous province.

Down a tier, an estimated 386,200 people had average annual earnings of between $80,000 and $100,000, up 47.5% over the same period. People in that bracket accounted for 2.4% of all earners in 2000, compared with 1.8% in 1990.

The number of people making between $60,000 and $80,000 rose 25% during the same 10-year span.

On the other end of the scale, however, the number of people making less than $20,000 a year also swelled, although they accounted for roughly the same proportion of earnings in both years.

In 2000, about 6.7 million Canadians had an average annual earnings of less than $20,000, up 5% or about 316,000 from 1990's levels.

At the start of this decade, earning below that level accounted for nearly 41% of all earners, roughly the same proportion as in 1980, the government agency said.

About a fifth of the total making less than $20,000 annually - roughly 1.5 million Canadians - were working in full-time, year-round positions.

Fifty-four per cent of people in that category were women.

"To put this in perspective, $20,000 represents less than one-half of the average earnings of all Canadians working full-year, full-time [$43,231]," Statscan said.

"Or, to put it another way, $20,000 in earnings is the equivalent of a wage of $10 an hour for an earner working 50 weeks a year and 40 hours each week."

Of the 795,000 women making below $20,000 while working full-time, all year, more than 50,000 were retail salespeople and clerks while another 33,000 were retail trade managers.

"Among female low earners, the fastest growth among occupational categories during the decade occurred in early childhood educators and assistants," the agency said.

Their numbers more than doubled in the 10 years between 1990 and 2000.

For men, the most common occupational category for those making less than $20,000 was farmer and farm manager.

"This reflects the fact that many farmers are self-employed and may experience large revenue fluctuations from year to year," the agency said. "However, the number of low-earning farmers fell during the decade."

In that category, however, there were big differences in earnings with farmers and general farm workers ranked 26th out of 507 categories as an occupation for men taking in $100,000 or more.

Although the latest data show the wage gap between the sexes is closing, there remains a big disparity between how much men and women take in.

On average, Statscan said, women earn 64 cents for every dollar men make, compared with 52 cents in 20 years earlier.

"The gap reflects differences in hours of work, job and work experience, and occupations and wage rates," Statscan said.

"The earnings differential resulting from differences in hours of work was about seven cents on the dollar in 2000. Women working on a full-year, full-time basis made just over 70 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts."

However, Tuesday's report also noted that the gender difference was significantly less among younger women, which those aged 25 and 29 earning slightly more than 81 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same age category.

"This group of young women had higher relative earnings than women overall because they were less likely to have experienced career interruptions due to family responsibilities," Statscan noted.

"In addition, they had a wider breadth of occupations to choose from than women historically have had."

For recent arrivals in this country, the earnings picture has deteriorated sharply.

In that year, male immigrants who had been in Canada for a full year were making 63 cents for every dollar made by those born in this country. That compared to the 80 cents made by immigrants who had been in Canada for 10 years.

In 1990, recent male immigrants also started out making about 63 cents for every dollar earned by the Canadian-born, but reached over 90 cents for those who had been in the country for 10 years, Statscan said.

A decade earlier, male immigrants who had been in the country for only a year made about 72 cents for every dollar made by the Canadian-born. Those who had been in Canada three or more years made about 90 cents or more.

"Once they had been in the country nine or 10 years, they made as much as Canadian-born men of the same age," the agency said.

"The patterns are similar for women."


Debt looming over province

When Finance Minister Jim Melenchuk suggests that some help from Ottawa and a war-inspired spike in oil prices are easing the pressure on what promised to be a tough provincial budget next week, most people begin to breathe a little easier.

After all, it must be good news that Melenchuk has found enough new money to stave off a tax hike or having to borrow millions to balance the books. Yet, even as the minister says things are so promising that he isn't ruling out further tax breaks, he invokes the Fiscal Stabilization Fund as his ace in the hole that makes it all possible.

Rather than get embroiled in the details of how this fund operates, suffice to say that drawing down money from it requires the finance minister to borrow the money on the market. Call it good cash management or phantom accounting, the fund operates as a line of credit, not a savings account.

Given Saskatchewan's overall debt load which then finance minister Eric Cline pegged seven weeks ago at nearly $12 billion -- this after tacking on $500 million which included $23 million borrowed to cover a drawdown on the rainy day fund -- it's time to pay close attention to Melenchuk's "good news."

While Saskatchewan no doubt benefits in the short term by oil prices that spiked in the runup to another Gulf war, it's foolhardy to treat the money as anything more than a windfall. With the war a certainty at this point, some analysts are predicting that oil prices that soared to more than $32 US could plunge within months to as low as $20 a barrel.

The provincial auditor warns us at every turn that Saskatchewan's indebted, trade dependent and resource-based economy remains greatly vulnerable to forces beyond its control -- a fact that will hit this province a few years hence with the impact of a freight train.

Anyone who has been paying attention to what's been happening south of the border knows by now that it's U.S. President George W. Bush who has the throttle wide open on that freight train.

As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has made abundantly clear, the lop-sided tax cuts instituted by the Bush administration this year are destined to reverse a projected American budget surplus of nearly $5.6 trillion US over the next decade into a deficit of at least $1.8 trillion.

Factoring in costs associated with the war in Iraq, ballooning medicare costs and such things as the impact of baby boomer retirements which will begin hitting the treasury around 2010 -- their pension costs are borne by the federal budget under a pay-as-you-go system -- the once-rich Uncle Sam will be in the hole by close to $5 trillion.

While American budget woes may seem far removed from those of puny little Saskatchewan, the reality is that the multi-trillion-dollar needs of the U.S. giant set the rules for the market that apply to everyone else.

With the giant U.S. economy claiming first dibs on hundreds of billions of investor dollars, it only drives up borrowing rates for lightweights such as Saskatchewan. And if a struggling U.S. government adopts an irresponsible strategy of printing money to pay the bills and lets inflation drive down the value of its burgeoning debt, interest rates will skyrocket.

Saskatchewan's public accounts show that it has about $4 billion in debt coming due over the next five years, with nearly another $1 billion borrowed by Crown corporations. Government borrowings of close to another $4 billion will need to be renewed over the decade after that, along with $2 billion or so by Crowns. Renewing all this debt at high rates will exacerbate Saskatchewan's problem of having to siphon off more than $600 million annually to cover interest.

That's why Saskatchewan residents should be holding Melenchuk to account when he talks about a "good news" budget. Will he put the windfall revenue to good use for the long term or pad programs and do nothing to fix structural budget deficits?

Melenchuk should act as if the light at the end of the tunnel indeed is a freight train, not the route to electoral salvation.


Among the big salaries in Saskatchewan: Superintendant Brian Dueck who has risen through the ranks through serving himself. He is making around $150,000 a year and taxes have paid for yet to be determined thousands to defend his criminal actions. Many of the university degreed people work for Saskatchewan Social Services and the Department of Justice where they earn their high salaries by keeping others down.

The $10M+ lawsuit: Rick Klassen still standing. Pretrial conferences in May will prepare September trial. New Justice Minister Eric Cline has inherited a badly corrupted portfolio.