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Canadians spend more on taxes than basic needs: report

Fin - Balance Sheet - CA
Canadians spend more on taxes than basic needs: report

Forget soaring house prices and the extra dough you’re forking over for food and fuel, it’s the rate of tax increases that Canadians should be complaining more about, a new study suggests.

The Fraser Institute has just released a report showing that the average Canadian family spends more on taxes than food, clothing and shelter combined.

The findings may not be a surprise to many Canadians, but the rate of growth – which the report shows is faster than any other single expenditure over the past 50 years – is noteworthy.

The report says the average Canadian family’s total tax bill has increased by 1,832 per cent between 1961 and 2013. That compares to 1,375 per cent for housing, a 620-per-cent increase in clothing costs and 546 per cent for food.

The increase in our tax bills since 1961 has also outpaced the Consumer Price Index, which has risen 682 per cent. Even after accounting for inflation over the period, the tax bill shot up 147 per cent, the report states.

“If you asked people to name their household’s biggest expense, many would likely say housing, but in reality the average Canadian family spends more on taxes than all basic necessities including housing,” states Charles Lammam, resident scholar in economic policy at the Fraser Institute and co-author of the Canadian Consumer Tax Index.

The total tax bill in the Fraser Institute report includes all government levies such as income and payroll taxes, as well as taxes on goods and services.

The report says the average Canadian family earned $77,381 in 2013 and paid $32,369 in total taxes, or 41.8 per cent of its income. It says 36.1 per cent of that income was spend on food, shelter and clothing combined.

That compares to 1961, when the average family earned approximately $5,000 and $1,675 went to taxes, or about 33.5 per cent, while 56.5 per cent went to food, clothing and shelter.

"Over the past five decades, the total tax bill grew much faster than the cost of basic necessities, so now taxes eat up more income than any other single family expense,” said Lammam, arguing that leaves families with less money to save for retirement or to pay down household debt.

Higher incomes are contributing to higher tax bills and the Fraser Institute concedes that taxes help fund key government services. Still, Lammam says the issue is how much the government gets versus what it gives back.

"With almost 42 per cent of income going to taxes, Canadians should ask whether they get the best value for their tax dollars,” he says.

The study follows a report released Monday showing average household assets in Canada are on the rise.

Environics Analytics says average household net worth in Canada was $442,130 in 2013 (or $564,834 in assets minus $122,705 in debt), up about 8 per cent from a year earlier. That’s also 28 per cent from the end of 2007, prior to the last major recession.

Rising real estate values and growth in equities helped propel the gains.

“Many people benefitted from the strong stock market. But they also saved more and didn’t take on more debt — preparing [perhaps] for a rainy day,” stated Peter Miron, senior research associate at Environics Analytics and lead developer of WealthScapes 2014.

Statistics Canada says Canadian household debt levels increased 4.2 per cent in June compared to a year earlier, but the level of growth is stable, which is why economists aren’t fretting. The Bank of Montreal’s annual debt survey released last week shows average household debt in Canada has risen nearly 6 per cent to $76,140 in 2014, up from $72,045 last year. Mortgage debt is on the rise, while credit card debt is dropping, according to the survey.