A graph shows personal income changes over time in NWT communities.
Data from the 2021 census illuminates the amount of money people can expect to earn in different Northwest Territories communities.
Published last week, the figures show residents of Norman Wells and Yellowknife in general have the most earning power. They also show a gulf between larger and smaller communities that largely is not closing.
The data measures median incomes. In other words, if you took everyone’s income in a community and stretched the numbers in a line, the figures shown here would be in the middle of each line.
We’ve chosen to focus on two types of income:
personal income, which shows the median value for the income each individual earns in a community; and
household income, which shows the median value for the income each household earns in a community.
Aklavik has the lowest figures on each of those lists for 2020, the year measured in the latest census.
In Aklavik in 2020, the median personal income was $28,000 and the median household income was $55,200.
Fort Liard, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Fort McPherson and Ulukhaktok are among other communities with similarly low annual incomes.
This table sets out the latest data. Twenty-two communities are included – the others are considered too small for the data to be released. Click any heading to sort the columns:
The Canada-wide median personal income is $41,200, according to Statistics Canada, and the nationwide median household income is $84,000.
Only six NWT communities listed above exceed the Canadian median personal income. In terms of household income, however, most communities exceed the national average. That may be in part because more people occupy each household in the NWT (2.7 people per household in the territory compared to 2.4 across Canada, according to the same census).
The latest data can be compared to past census results to get a sense of how income is changing in each community.
These figures aren’t adjusted for inflation, which in general causes income to grow over time as costs rise. Prices rose around 44 percent between 2000 and 2020, but that doesn’t necessarily mean incomes did the same.
Incomes in many small communities actually more than doubled in those two decades, according to the census data, but that also doesn’t reflect the changing cost of living, which statisticians say can be difficult to measure and track in isolated areas.
The Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on the territory’s 2020 figures.
Pandemic relief benefits helped the NWT’s median earnings to grow by 5.6 percent that year, whereas Canada-wide the media income fell by 2.1 percent, the NWT Bureau of Statistics said.
That may mean some communities see income growth falter, or reverse itself, by the time of the next census.
In some communities, personal income was already on slide between 2015 and 2020 despite the impact of pandemic benefits. Take a look at Norman Wells, the highest line, and Fort Simpson in purple in the chart below.
The median personal income fell in both of those communities over that five-year span, but rose everywhere else.
Łútsël K’é, in particular, saw a significant bump in personal income between 2015 and 2020, almost doubling from around $22,000 to just under $41,000.
The reasons for changes like that are not easy to precisely pin down, but it’s worth noting that the Thaidene Nëné protected area opened during that time. Thaidene Nëné was envisaged in part as a means of bolstering Łútsël K’é’s economy through tourism revenue.
Despite some examples of smaller communities’ fortunes improving, in general, the bigger regional centres are maintaining higher incomes and the gap is not shrinking.
Here’s how household incomes have changed.
At first, the distance between communities’ household incomes may look smaller than for their personal incomes.
But the extremes are startling.
The median household in Norman Wells was earning $160,000 in 2020. In Aklavik, the median household was earning barely a third of that.
Overall – driven largely by Yellowknife’s large population and healthy income figures – the NWT has the highest median personal and household incomes in Canada.
The NWT’s median personal income is $56,800 (versus the Canadian figure of $42,100) and the territory’s household equivalent is $127,000 (versus Canada’s $84,000).
But in many communities, residents’ income is nothing like as healthy and the cost of living far greater than in larger centres.