The latest data from the National Household Survey marks the first major update to information on Canadians' incomes since the 2006 census. In that time, Canada has gone through the worst economic crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression.
But unfortunately, we can't find out from the new data just how low-income Canadians performed on income since that time. Thanks to the Harper government's elimination of the long-form mandatory census, StatsCan says Canada's new income data is not comparable to the old data.
In a note buried in the release of the third and last installment of the NHS's findings, the proud parent of the survey found itself criticizing its own data. The statistical agency warned that the NHS's findings on low-income estimates cannot be compared to old censuses.
The results from the NHS "show markedly different trends than those derived from other surveys," StatsCan states.
The reasoning for this is the different methods of analysis the NHS utilizes.
"With the new methodology of the NHS, estimates of low income are not comparable with the census-based estimates produced in the past," the statement reads.
Toby Sanger, an economist for the Canadian Union of Public Employees who drew attention to StatsCan's warning in a blog entry Wednesday, described the Harper government's switch from mandatory census to voluntary survey as "a major failure."
"A dark cloud will remain over the NHS results wherever there isn’t a stronger light shining from other more reliable statistical sources," he writes.
Sanger said it would take some time to figure out what is reliable and what is not.
Complaints about the reliability of National Household Survey data have become a common refrain in many of the stories and blogs on its findings, with many observers questioning the need to replace the old mandatory census.