[Note: I noticed an error in some of the graphs a few minutes after publishing the original post.]
[Update: Everyone should read Kevin Milligan's take using the SLID data. I'll get back to this in another point soon.]
I noted on Econowatch at Maclean's a few weeks ago that average and median real earnings increased over the recession, and the point was surprising enough to me that I decided to dig deeper. I was also inspired by this post that reproduced a couple of fascinating graphs from this paper by David Green and Benjamin Sand plotting real wage changes against wage percentiles. This way of representing data is so good that I can't help but steal it, and that's what I'm going to do here. Their paper stops with the 2006 census, and since the 2011 National Household Survey data are unusable (thanks again, Tony Clement!) so I've decided to work with the public use microdata files from the Labour Force Survey instead. The weekly nominal wage data are constructed by multiplying reported usual weekly hours by the reported usual hourly wage. The real earnings data are the nominal earnings divided by the CPI.
The data for 1997-2002 and 2002-2007 look like the Green-Sand graphs - growth in the top few deciles, and no growth elsewhere. The data after 2007 have the same pattern in that the highest growth rates are in the top part of the distribution, but are different in that lower percentiles saw measurable increases in real earnings.
Here are the data for women:
The vertical axis is the same as in the previous graph.
Canadian women seem to have done reasonably well during the last five years.
And here are the data for both sexes, still with the same vertical axis:
[Frances can take credit for the fact that I broke out the wage data out by sex before looking at the total. It wouldn't have occured to me to do so in the early days of WCI.]
That last graph is particularly interesting in light of the discussion about whether or not the middle class is 'hollowing out'. The middle part of the distribution saw the slowest growth, but if the trend over the last five years continues, the income distribution will be more concentrated in the middle as those in the lower part of the distribution catch up to the middle. (I've done the simulations.)
Finally, here is that last graph for the periods before and since the Conservatives came to power. This isn't really all that interesting as far as the economics goes, but it's the sort of thing that should be better-known in political circles:
[Click here for a version with the same vertical scale as the other graphs.]
I don't think that the Conservatives can claim much credit for the broad-based increase in real earnings that have occurred since they came to power - much/most of it can be attributed to the Bank of Canada's failure to keep inflation from drifting below target. Lower-than-expected inflation means higher-than-expected real wages.
On the other hand, if the opposition parties want to use the theme of stagnant wages to attack the Conservatives, they would do better to look at the data first.