Halifax Index 2024

Affordability

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INFLATION DOWN, BUT COST OF LIVING STILL BITES

With inflation remaining elevated at 4.3% in 2023, average purchasing power declined again in Halifax with a drop of 1.7%. All benchmark cities recorded a decline in purchasing power last year with the “best” performance being a 1.0% reduction in Winnipeg.

The poverty rate jumped by 5.4 percentage points from 2021 to 2022, which translated to 13.6% of the population with less income than the poverty line. Halifax had both the largest annual increase and the highest 2022 poverty rate across benchmark cities.

Over 40% of respondents to Halifax’s Partnership’s City Matters Survey carried out by MQO Research, strongly agreed that they “were using sub-optimal child care arrangements because they had no other option.”

Despite rising interest rates, there was no 2023 surge in the non-mortgage debt delinquency rate or the level of non-mortgage debt per consumer. The level of consumer insolvencies did rise to its highest value in four years but still remained well below pre-pandemic years.

Halifax Index 2024
Income & Prices

Halifax’s household income per capita continued to grow steadily between 2% to 4% per year. It grew 2.6% in 2023, 3.7% in 2022, and 2.9% in 2021. Additionally, inflation has begun to wane with prices in Halifax increasing by 4.3% in 2023. This is down from 7.3% in 2022 – and a welcome relief for consumers.

As prices rise, consumers find that even increasing incomes do not buy them as much as they used to. Despite nominal increases in income, Halifax experienced its third consecutive year of purchasing power decline. Purchasing power decreased by 1.7% in 2023, 3.6% in 2022, and 1.0% in 2021. Halifax was not alone; all 10 benchmark cities experienced declining purchasing power in 2023.

Across Nova Scotia, the inflation rate was 4.0%, slightly slower than Halifax. Most of the inflation rate was driven by increases in the cost of food (up 7.9%), health and personal care (up 6.9%), and shelter (up 5.4%). Prices for all the broader goods categories increased in 2023 though for most goods it was at a slower pace than experienced in 2022.

Nova Scotia’s mean effective tax rate1for individuals was 13.0% in 2021, the fourth highest across provinces. This marked the first time since 2013 that the effective tax rate noticeably changed and was likely reflective of broad, post-pandemic support payments winding down. While tax rates have an impact on affordability for an individual, they are only one component of the Province’s financial picture.

*Due to data limitations, figures are based on Major City Insights (Autumn 2023) for St. John’s and KCW.
Source: Conference Board of Canada, Major City Insights (Winter 2024)

Household Income per Capita

  • Halifax’s household income per capita increased 2.6% in 2023 from $53,644 in 2022 to $55,026 in 2023.
  • Halifax ranked third highest out of the 10 benchmark cities in terms of income growth, but looking at absolute figures, Halifax had the third-lowest household income per capita.
  • Ottawa had the highest household income per capita ($69,457) in 2023 among benchmark cities, while Winnipeg posted the largest increase over 2022 (+2.8%).

*Due to data limitations, figures are based on Major City Insights (Autumn 2023) for St. John’s and KCW.
Source: Conference Board of Canada, Major City Insights (Winter 2024) and Statistics Canada, Consumer Price Index, Table 18-10-0005-01

Annual Change in Purchasing Power

  • Halifax had the third-highest inflation rate in 2023 (4.3%) behind only Quebec City (4.8%) and Montreal (5.1%).
  • With growth in income per capita (2.6%) unable to keep pace with price hikes, purchasing power in Halifax declined 1.7%, which placed Halifax in the middle of the benchmark cities.
  • 2023 marked the third consecutive year in which purchasing power fell in Halifax following a 1.0% decline in 2021 and a 3.6% decline in 2022.
  • Purchasing power for all 10 benchmark cities declined in 2023.

Source: Statistics Canada, Consumer Price Index, Table 18-10-0005-01

Consumer Price Index (CPI) by Product

  • Following 2022’s significant inflation (as measured by the change in the Consumer Price Index), 2023 saw sizable but not extraordinary price growth: 4.3% for Halifax and 4.0% for Nova Scotia.
  • Looking at changes by category (data were available only at the provincial level), food prices increased the fastest at 7.9% followed by health and personal care at 6.9% and shelter at 5.4%.
  • While all nine categories tracked here saw positive price increases, most categories decelerated from 2022. Only three categories increased faster than in 2022: clothing and footwear; health and personal care; and alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and recreational cannabis.

*This rate includes income and payroll taxes paid to both provincial and federal governments.
Source: Statistics Canada, Longitudinal Administrative Databank, Table 11-10-0054-01

Individual Mean Effective Tax Rate* by Province

  • The mean effective tax rate for individuals in Nova Scotia increased to 13.0% in 2021 up 0.4 percentage points over 2020. Until 2021, it had remained essentially unchanged since 2015 at 12.5%. This includes both income and payroll taxes paid provincially and federally.
  • Across all provinces, Nova Scotia has the fourth-highest rate, 0.5 percentage points lower than the highest in Prince Edward Island (13.5%) and 2.0 percentage points above the lowest in British Columbia (11.0%).
  • Over the past two decades, Nova Scotia has typically maintained its position in the middle of the provinces as either fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-highest among 10 provinces.
  • In the late 1990s, Nova Scotia had among the lowest mean effective tax rates with either the second- or third-lowest rates between 1995 and 2000.

Halifax Index 2024
Poverty

The metrics for poverty and income distribution come with longer lags than many other data sets. Poverty rate statistics are available only for 2022, while detailed income data are available only up to 2021. Thus, the effects of the pandemic and governments’ responses to it are still quite evident in the data.

The poverty rate as calculated with the Market Basket Measure (MBM)2rose in all benchmark cities from 2021 to 2022. At 5.4 percentage points, Halifax recorded the largest increase in its poverty rate across the 10 cities. Halifax also had the highest 2022 poverty rate at 13.6%.

The MBM threshold for Halifax increased by approximately $2,500 (4.8%) from 2022 to 2023 to just under $55,000. The rate of annual change was down from the 8.7% increase between 2021 and 2022.

For young (0 - 17 years) and working age (18 - 64 years) individuals in Halifax, the shares living in low-income families dropped steeply in 2020 as pandemic income supports rolled out, but then rebounded somewhat in 2021 as those supports were rolled back. In both cases, though, the shares living in low-income families remain below pre-pandemic levels. In contrast, the share of Halifax seniors (65+ years) living in low-income families rose to a new high in 2021.

The impact of pandemic income supports similarly led to a jump in the share of total income earned by those in the bottom half of the income distribution in 2020 followed by a decline in 2021.

The average income of those in the top 5% of income earners spiked by 20% from 2020 to 2021, while the average income of those in the bottom 50% decreased by $100.

*The MBM threshold used for this graph has been adjusted to be comparable to individual after-tax income rather than a family of four. As per Statistics Canada methodology, thresholds are adjusted by the square root of family size.
Source: Statistics Canada, Custom Request

Poverty Rates by City

  • The most up-to-date poverty rate figures are for 2022, a year in which pandemic income supports were reduced and the cost of living spiked to a degree unseen in decades.
  • All benchmark cities saw substantial increases in their poverty rates from 2021 to 2022. Halifax had the largest increase, up 5.4 percentage points, from 2021 to 2022.
  • Halifax also had the highest 2022 poverty rate, 13.6%, across all benchmark cities. Quebec City had the lowest at 5.6%.

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Income Survey, Table 11-10-0066-01

MBM Thresholds by Component

  • The MBM threshold represents the costs of specified qualities and quantities of food, clothing, footwear, transportation, shelter, and other expenses for a reference family of two adults and two children.
  • The total MBM threshold for Halifax in 2023 reached $54,965, a 4.8% increase over the 2022 level of $52,438. While this is a significant increase, it is smaller than the 8.7% rise between 2021 and 2022.
  • Across components, the largest increase from 2022 to 2023 was in food, which was up almost $1,200 (8.3%).

*If an individual is a member of a census family that makes less than half of the median after-tax income in their region, that individual is included in the Census Family Low Income Measure After-Tax (CFLIM-AT).
Source: Statistics Canada, Annual Income Estimates for Census Families and Individuals, Table 11-10-0018-01

Share within Low-Income Families by Age

  • Due to data lags, the most recent available figures for this statistic are for 2021.
  • The years 2020 and 2021 were marked by significant volatility for this metric.
  • The shares of those ages 0 - 17 and 18 - 64 in low-income families dropped sharply from 2019 to 2020, presumably in response to the pandemic-relief packages implemented by the federal and provincial governments. As these programs began to wind down in 2021, the shares rose. However, the share of individuals in low-income families remained below pre-pandemic levels.
  • The pattern for those ages 65 and older was different; that share was essentially static from 2018 through 2020 before jumping upwards in 2021. The 2021 share of Halifax seniors living in low-income families, 13.9%, was the highest ever recorded going back to 2001.

Source: Statistics Canada, Longitudinal Administrative Databank, Table 11-10-0055-01

Share and Average Income by Income Group

  • As the federal and provincial governments pushed out substantial pandemic income support in 2020, the total-income share of those in the bottom half of the income distribution rose significantly, while the share for those in the top 5% fell. As those support payments wound down in 2021, however, the pattern reversed.
  • The 21.9% share for the bottom 50% in 2021 was still the second highest value in records going back close to 40 years.
  • The average income of those in the top 5%, aided perhaps by very strong stock market returns, jumped by 20% from 2020 to 2021. Over the same period, the average income for those in the bottom 50% of income earners decreased marginally.
  • The gap between the average income for the top 5% of income earners ($229,900) and the average income for those in the bottom half of income earners ($20,900) was $209,000 in 2021.

Halifax Index 2024
Child Care

NOTE: For several years the Halifax Index has reported child care cost data published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) each spring. In 2023, due to major shifts stemming from recent federal-provincial agreements, the CCPA’s publishing schedule was delayed. Following its June release, the 2023 Halifax Index was updated with CCPA cost data later in the summer. New CCPA child care cost data will not be available until the second half of 2024. Thus, for the 2024 Halifax Index, last year’s material based on CCPA cost data is being repeated. The 2025 Halifax Index will incorporate the next set of child care cost data published by the CCPA. New information on child care in Halifax is provided below based on data from Statistics Canada and Halifax Partnership’s City Matters Survey carried out by MQO Research.

The availability of affordable, high-quality child care enhances the ability of parents, especially women, to participate in the labour force and/or pursue opportunities for education and training. This is particularly beneficial to the economy now when labour markets are tight and productivity improvements are required to maintain our standard of living. High-quality child care also gives children a sound base for learning when entering the school system and contributes to a better-skilled labour force in the long term.

Statistics Canada reports provincial-level survey results for families encountering difficulties with child care. In 2023, the most commonly cited difficulty among families using child care was again the availability of care in their community (72.5%). Issues related to scheduling and affordability were also mentioned by significant shares of respondents, 30.7% and 31.7%, respectively. Several areas of concern, including scheduling, quality, and caregiver qualifications, were noted by smaller numbers of respondents in 2023 than in 2022.

The Halifax-level data on child care come from the annual City Matters Survey. The share of respondents who strongly agreed when asked if they were using sub-optimal child care arrangements because they had no other option rose to 43.0% in 2024. More than one-quarter disagreed when asked if they could access the child care they needed at a cost that was reasonable. Opinions on affordability have improved substantially since 2018, likely in response to significant increases in government funding for child care. Nonetheless, concerns among parents remain far from being fully addressed.

Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Measuring Matters: Assessing Canada’s Progress Toward $10-a-Day Child Care for All (2023)

Median Child Care Fees for Infants

  • The median child care fee for infants in Halifax, at $529 per month, was the fifth highest across benchmark cities.
  • Halifax’s median cost was $374 per month less than in Toronto, where costs were highest, but $337 more than in Montreal and Quebec City, where costs were lowest.
  • Halifax’s 2023 monthly cost was 43.7% lower than in 2019.

Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Measuring Matters: Assessing Canada’s Progress Toward $10-a-Day Child Care for All (2023)

Median Child Care Fees for Toddlers

  • The median child care fee for toddlers in Halifax, at $456 per month, was the fifth lowest across benchmark cities.
  • This amount was $382 per month less than in Calgary, where costs were highest, but $264 more than in Montreal and Quebec City, where costs were lowest.
  • Halifax’s monthly fee for toddlers was 45.0% lower than in 2019.

Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Measuring Matters: Assessing Canada’s Progress Toward $10-a-Day Child Care for All (2023)

Median Child Care Fees for Preschoolers

  • The median child care fee for preschoolers in Halifax, at $456 per month (the same as the median fee for toddlers), was the fifth lowest across benchmark cities.
  • The figure was $354 per month less than in Calgary, where costs were highest, but $264 more than in Montreal and Quebec City, where costs were lowest.
  • Halifax’s monthly amount was 47.1% lower than in 2019.

Source: Statistics Canada, Survey on Early Learning and Child Care Arrangements, Table 42-10-0008-01

Difficulties Finding Child Care Arrangements

  • For Nova Scotians using child care and experiencing difficulties, the most often-cited difficulty (72.5%) was not being able to find available child care in their community. This was up 6.6 percentage points from 2022 and 15.5 percentage points from 2019.
  • Affordable child care as a concern moved up from third place in 2022 to second place in 2023, but the share citing this dropped marginally from 31.8% to 31.7%.
  • Some items showed improvement such as finding care that could accommodate more than one child in a family. This was noted by 20.9% of respondents in 2022 but only by 11.9% in 2023.

Question: "Using a scale of one to ten, with one (1) meaning 'Completely disagree' and ten (10) meaning 'Completely agree', please indicate your agreement with the following statements about child care:"
Source: MQO Research, City Matters Survey (2024)

Difficulties Finding Child Care Arrangements

  • As a complement to Statistics Canada’s provincial-level data, the Partnership’s City Matters Survey included questions related to child care in Halifax. Answers in the 8 - 10 range indicate high levels of agreement, while answers in the 1 - 3 range indicate high levels of disagreement.
  • For respondents with children requiring child care services in Halifax, 27.3% said they were not able to access the care they needed at a cost they thought was reasonable. This was up from 23.2% in 2023.
  • The share in 2024 who were unable to find care close enough to home or the workplace (17.2%) also was up over 2023.
  • The share who strongly agreed that they were using sub-optimal child care arrangements because no other options were available rose from 38.6% in 2023 to 43.0% in 2024.

Halifax Index 2024
Debt

While there are concerns about rising debt levels and affordability, non-mortgage debt and delinquency remained at manageable levels in 2023. Concern is warranted, however, as it is unclear whether increases in delinquency and insolvency signal a return to pre-pandemic norms or whether they are increasing for less benign reasons. Most 2023 figures remained below their 2019 and prior levels.

In 2023, Halifax’s average non-mortgage debt per consumer was $20,818, a decrease of $118 (-0.6%) from 2022 and a record low. This decrease came as Halifax households spent less on credit cards and lines of credit. Delinquency rates increased to 1.24% in 2023 up from 1.00% in 2022. Both figures remained below the pre-pandemic rate of 1.56% in 2019. While both debt and delinquency have increased over the course of 2023, current figures were well below longer-term norms.

Consumer insolvencies3totalled 1,592 in 2023. This was a notable increase of 23% over 2022, though again, figures were still below typical pre-pandemic levels. Consumer bankruptcies4were unchanged from the prior year staying at 452 (+0%) in 2023. Meanwhile, consumer proposals5increased to 1,140 (+35%) in 2023.

The average consumer in Halifax had a record-low non-mortgage debt level in 2023; however, it is unclear whether consumers were better off. Delinquency rates and insolvencies rose closer to their pre-pandemic levels and non-mortgage debts are only one part of the larger debt picture.

Source: Equifax Canada, Canadian Consumer Credit (Various)

Non-Mortgage Debt per Consumer

  • Halifax’s average non-mortgage debt in Q4 2023 was $20,971 per person. In comparison, Nova Scotia and Canada ended 2023 with average non-mortgage debts of $20,839 and $21,296 per person, respectively.
  • The annual average non-mortgage debt in 2023 ($20,818 per person) was the lowest since Equifax started publishing Halifax-level data in 2015. Since 2019, this figure has declined $2,788.
  • Across the nine major cities in Equifax’s Major City Analysis, Halifax’s Q4 2023 figure was the fourth lowest and represented an increase of 0.04% since a year ago.

Source: Equifax Canada, Canadian Consumer Credit (Various)

Non-Mortgage Delinquency Rate

  • Halifax’s delinquency rate for non-mortgage debt was 1.26% in Q4 2023. The rates were 1.52% for Nova Scotia and 1.30% for Canada.
  • The annualized non-mortgage delinquency rate in Halifax for 2023 was 1.24%, which is 0.24 percentage points above 2022 but 0.32 percentage points below 2019.
  • Delinquency rates increased 0.16 percentage points between Q4 2022 and Q4 2023.

Source: Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada, Insolvency Statistics in Canada (Various)

Consumer Insolvencies by Type

  • Consumer bankruptcies remained at 452 in 2023, the same as in 2022. However, this figure was 58% lower than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
  • Consumer proposals increased by 35% in 2023 growing to 1,140. This was 14% above the 2019 figure of 997.
  • Total consumer insolvencies increased by 297 (+23%) between 2022 and 2023. However, with a total of 1,592, this remained well below pre-pandemic levels.

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