Nelson is gradually becoming a more affluent city made up of single and two-person households, according to new census data provided by Statistics Canada.
The latest statistics released from the 2021 census highlight family and household makeups as well as income. They show a five-year rise in common-law couples who are living in Nelson without children, as well as an overall increase to what residents earn.
There were 735 common-law couples living in the city in 2021, up from 595 in 2016, while the number of married couples had a marginal drop of five to 1,575.
Mayor John Dooley said he isn’t surprised by the census results. City property development data, he said, has shown a surge in new investments over the last four years.
“There’s a desire to live and work in Nelson and for people to invest,” said Dooley. “So people are coming from other jurisdictions in many cases with substantial amounts of money that they want to invest in our community. They’re coming here for the lifestyle, and the quality of life in particular.”
More of those couples are also living in Nelson without children, with 1,320 living on their own in 2021 up from 1,170 childless couples in 2016.
Of the city’s 2,475 children (Stats Can does not put an age limit on children living with parents), 1,670 live in two-parent families while 805 are in single-parent homes.
There are also 1,740 people ages 15 and older living alone in Nelson, and 1,150 who live with non-relatives, two stats new to the census show.
Nelson residents are also making more money overall than they did when the 2016 census was released.
The median total income for residents in 2020 before tax was $39,200, up from $31,424 in 2015. That’s less than what residents in Rossland ($48,000) and Castlegar ($40,800) earn, on par with Trail and more than Nakusp ($35,600), Grand Forks and Creston ($33,200) and Salmo and Kaslo ($30,600).
Nelson households are making a median total of $72,500, an increase of nearly $16,000 or 27.8 per cent since the previous census. That is higher than both the provincial increase of 21.4 per cent as well as national rise of 19 per cent.
Mike Stolte, a Nelson-based community development consultant and former federal economist, thinks the changing family demographics and income levels can be tied to a steep rise in young adults moving to the city.
The population of 25-to-29-year-olds in Nelson grew 31.7 per cent from 2016 to 2021, while residents ages 30 to 34 also rose 26.2 per cent over the same timespan.
“It’s all young professionals. They can live anywhere, they can make more money. …,” said Stolte. “People with mobile jobs, they’re not working at Kootenay Co-op necessarily or they’re not working for Interior Health. They can take their jobs and work anywhere, and that’s, I think, why we’re seeing a fairy significant rise in median income for individuals and for households.”
A majority of Nelson residents appear to also be marginally moving up in the tax bracket.
The most common income group in the city in 2020 were people ages 15 and older making $20,000 to $29,999 annually, which included 1,630 residents. In 2015 the most common wage was for people making $10,000 to $19,999.
The $20,000 to $29,999 group is also the most populated among residents in Castlegar, Trail, Creston, Grand Forks and Nakusp. Only Rossland, with 415 people earning $30,000 to $39,999, has residents earning more.
Leeza Perehudoff, a research intern with Selkirk Innovates, said the rise in income could be tied to increases to minimum wage — which in B.C. has gone up $3 hourly to $15.65 since 2018 — as well as employers’ recruitment efforts to make Nelson more affordable.
A 2021 report by Living Wage for Families BC and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found parents need to each earn $19.56 per hour for at least 35 hours every week in order to support a family of four in Nelson.
“There’s been a considerate surge for more businesses to offer a living wage … and I think that there’s some evidence to show that more businesses are trying to offer that for their employees,” said Perehudoff.
The stats also show the richer a person is, the more likely they are to be a man in Nelson.
There are more female earners making zero to $59,999 in the city than men. The greatest disparity is in the $20,000 to $29,999 group, which included 960 women to 670 men.
The majority of residents making more than $60,000 in Nelson are men, which dramatically increases in the relatively small group of people making more than $100,000.
In 2020, 735 residents earned over $100,000, up from just 405 in 2015. Of those 735 people, 480 are men compared to 255 women.
“I would look at it in relation to what’s happening across B.C.,” said Stolte. “There’s systemic issues with gender parity, or gender equality in terms of pay for sure, that exist. And I think what you’re probably seeing is proof in paper of that.”
An asterisk should also be placed next to any 2020 income stats due to the inclusion of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) made available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Nelson, 2,785 people — approximately 25 per cent of Nelson’s 11,106 residents — received CERB for a median amount of $8,000. The B.C. and national CERB intake average was 22 per cent.
The next highest number of CERB recipients in the West Kootenay was in Castlegar with 1,480, followed by Trail (1,385), Rossland (865), Creston (825), Grand Forks (700) and Nakusp (310).
Dooley said he believes CERB was less of a factor in communities such as Trail and Castlegar that are dependent on industrial economies. That wasn’t the case in Nelson, which relies on a tourism economy served by hotels, restaurants and retail businesses.
“Our biggest impact here was on the service sector,” he said. “I think that absolutely impacts our numbers greatly.”